You're On Mute

  • Emily Perry

  • Presented by — Seventeen

An white Addidas sock on a wooden floor with a hole in it. In the hole there is a mirror, in which you can see someone taking a picture of it with their phone

Introduction

You’re On Mute is a work for a single female performer. She occupies a domestic-feeling public space and discusses the ‘gender-blind lockdown’ in the UK during the 2020/21 global coronavirus pandemic. The work is on continuously during opening hours and the audience can enter the work at any point. They may observe the performer entering the gallery with wet hair, drying her hair and putting make-up on before giving her presentation. They may catch her post-presentation yoga sessions, which are also performed for the audience.

The performance is accompanied by livestream surveillance videos hidden inside a dirty sock and in the bottom of a tea mug.

The room is lit by domestic lamps positioned next to large beanbags upholstered in that hard-wearing, distinctly-patterned, public transport fabric, on which the audience can sit. The performer sits on an office chair partly hidden inside a wooden booth; her face is visible through a laptop-screen-sized hole in the mirror-clad front of the booth. From here, she tries to engage individual audience members with annoying phrases - things heard too often on online video calls during the pandemic before beginning to speak about the ‘gender-blind lockdowns’ as if presenting an online seminar.

The Performer

The performer must be an adult woman (over 18 years old and inclusive of anyone who identifies as a woman). Performers should be able to carry out the requirements of the work (as described below) but the booth can be built to accommodate a performer’s needs as necessary. They should be local to the gallery, can be any ethnicity, any size or shape, and should have at least short hair (not a shaved head).

The character in You’re On Mute is a determined and passionate feminist as well as a keen people pleaser and anxious host. She discusses the ‘gender-blind lockdown’ as if giving an online presentation of her research. She interrupts herself to welcome and offer coffee to audience members as they arrive. She is constantly aware of the external gaze on her despite trying to ignore it. Around the presentation she neurotically performs being normal at home. She wears a blouse/top with yoga leggings.

The Performer’s Routine

  1. The performer enters the gallery with wet hair.
  2. She gets ready in the mirror - puts make-up on and blow-dries her hair, with “Nothing Ever Happens” by Del Amitri playing on repeat, on a laptop in the booth.
  3. She enters the booth and sits on the office chair looking through the screen to the gallery, her sides and back partly revealed, partly hidden by the fabric curtains.
  4. Inside the booth, she engages the audience with annoying phrases heard too often on online video calls during the pandemic (when many relied on this technology for work and social interaction, some people were using it for the first time). She ignores any audience replies.
  5. She speaks about the UK ‘gender-blind lockdown’ reading a script from the laptop. During this, she plays an audio recording from Pregnant Then Screwed (the charity that campaigns to end the motherhood penalty set up a “Scream or Shout (SOS)” telephone line for women to scream and shout their frustrations at how let down they have been by the lack of government support during the pandemic. A recording was created to capture the unfair load that women have shouldered throughout the pandemic.)
  6. If additional audience member senter the gallery during her presentation, the performer says “Hi, welcome, please stay on mute” then carries on speaking briefly, then interrupts herself to address them again “sorry, would you like a coffee? You can help yourself over there”. Then she continues with the presentation script.
  7. The audience sits on beanbags or stands in the gallery. They can help themselves to coffee and explore the installation.
  8. After the presentation, she leaves the booth with the laptop, she searches “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube and does the yoga session on a mat in front of the laptop.
  9. Finally, she goes to the bathroom, plays “Nothing Ever Happens” again on her laptop, makes herself a coffee, maybe eats something, checks her face and hair in the mirror.
  10. She then reenters the booth and repeats the performance from steps 4-10.
  11. Five minutes before the end of the day, at whatever point in the routine she is at, she lies on the yoga mat in child’s pose and then flat on her back until the gallery is closed and all the audience have left.

Relationship with the museum/collection. The context for performance/how it is organised in gallery

You’re On Mute requires one female performer plus the finances to pay her as generously as possible (at least contemporary minimum / living wage). There are no particular requirements for the space, though it must be large enough to accommodate her movements and the audience. The booth can be built against a wall or as a freestanding structure. Guidelines for layout are given below. You’re On Mute should be experienced as something happening in the gallery that the audience can explore freely without set start and finish times. The performance can be presented within a permanent collection display or as part of a group exhibition, or exhibited alone as the only artwork in the space. You’re On Mute can also happen as part of special events outside gallery opening times.

Gallery staff must ensure the performer is safe and comfortable. Audiences are allowed to take photos or short videos but this should be overseen by staff. The performer should be protected from any physical contact, or extended interaction.

The duration of the performance is the length of gallery opening times. Performers cannot work more than the country’s recommended hours per day. Performers should have time before their performance to do warm-up exercises and should have access to water and food to stay hydrated and energised.

How performance starts and ends

The performer, having already arrived at the gallery and put her bag away, enters the gallery with wet hair as the gallery opens to the public.

The performance repeats during gallery opening hours. The performer can take breaks as necessary at least disruptive times of the performance, for example not when she’s in the booth, but rather during the preparation or yoga sections. On return, she should resume the task where she left off. For full day performances, longer performer breaks should be planned. Two performers may be required to accommodate longer gallery opening hours.

The performer wears a watch or is signalled by the gallery staff when it is five minutes before the end of the day. At this point, at whatever stage in the routine she is at, the performer lies on the yoga mat in child’s pose, remaining in position until the gallery is closed.

Installation

Installation layout guidelines

Floor plan and layout of booth
Floor plan and layout of booth

How to build the booth for You’re On Mute

The booth should be made from neat, unpainted wood sized one metre squared with space for a chair. The booth can be attached to an existing gallery wall and the floor, or freestanding if that suits the space better. The mirror is attached to a wooden frame. The booth should be assembled so one side has the support beams at the top half of the frame and the other side has the support beams at the bottom half of the frame. This means the curtain, half the height of the wall, can be hung from the top and the middle, hiding the support beams and revealing the performer’s head and shoulders one side and her legs and feet the other side.

Floor plan and layout of booth
Sides walls to be attached to existing gallery wall

Floor plan and layout of booth
Mirror wall for front of booth

Video elements for You’re On Mute

The sock phone shows the selfie camera, so the viewer is simply reflected when they peer in. Periodically throughout the exhibition, gallery staff should press record on this phone to capture some images of audience engagement with this video. I suggest taking 2 minute recordings at various intervals throughout the day. These recordings will of course capture the gallery staff pressing record too.

The phone hidden inside a book under a bottomless mug, shows a livestream from the GoPro video camera. The GoPro is positioned in the booth behind the performer, or at the front of the mirror screen, recording the audience.

Instructions for how to set up a phone with a GoPro can be found here.

Dog Cam is a silent video to be played on loop via a screen. (19 minutes long, 1.62GB in mp4 format)

How to recruit a performer

The performer should be recruited locally to the exhibition location. Interview times and days should be varied and advertised widely to be accessible to a diverse group of applicants. The exhibiting organisation can recruit several people for the role to perform on different days if necessary.

The performer should be able to perform the tasks of the performance as outlined in this document. However, if necessary to accommodate a performer, the following adjustments can be made:

  • to the booth size or design.
    • The front mirror wall with screen-sized hole must remain.
    • The performer’s sides and back should be partly hidden by transport fabric curtains.
  • yoga moves can be modified to suit a performer’s ability.

At the interview, the concept of the performance must be discussed, including the relevant historical context of its inception (the coronavirus pandemic) and the practicalities of this iteration of You’re On Mute. The artist’s description and images of previous versions of You’re on Mute should be shared with the performer. The interviewer should check the applicant’s ability to perform the actions. The performer should sign contracts detailing the nature of their employment, rehearsal/performance times and the amount of money they earn. The script should be shared with the performer immediately after signing the contract to allow as much time as possible for her to learn it.

At rehearsal

Rehearsal time will differ from site to site but the performer(s) need enough time to become comfortable with the material and in addition the following should be included:

  • Allow time for performer to meet gallery staff and see performance location
  • Provide refreshments
  • Explain how to find exits / refreshment area / toilets
  • Allow performer to rehearse her routine on site
  • Discuss and practice the edges of the performance, i.e how it starts, finishes and how she takes breaks.
  • Discuss the performer’s outfit, hair style and make up

Documentation requirements

With every showing of You’re On Mute the exhibiting organisation must:

  • Take photos of the performer in every position of her routine
  • Keep a copy of performer’s contracts
  • Share and record performer’s responses to the feedback form (provided with acquisition) following their performances
  • Send a copy of this documentation to the artist

Documentation cannot be exhibited in lieu of a performance. Documentation will provide more information for the next staging of the work. You’re On Mute refers to a particular time in UK politics and society and future renditions will have new meaning. External global events, developments in feminism and gender politics and individuals internal moods will define the work and speak of that moment, as well as a past period.

Public documentation of You’re On Mute should be in the form of still images rather than video. Exhibiting organisations can determine if audiences are allowed to take photos / videos of the performance ensuring the performers are aware of the rules and are protected by gallery staff.

Conditions of sale

Price £8,500 + vat

  • The acquiring organisation commits to showing You’re On Mute at least once every five years.
  • Documentation cannot be exhibited in lieu of a performance.
  • You’re On Mute must be performed at least once during any exhibition within which it is included
  • Installation including props and videos can be displayed without the performer for one day following a performance.
  • Props and videos should never be exclusively displayed alone without performance activation at least once during the exhibition period. However, following a structured performance of You’re On Mute, the installation may be used as a remote-working / chill-out space. People can sit on the beanbags and be in the space with access to coffee. The videos would remain set up as they are, reflecting the activity in the space.
  • Documentation (following guidelines above) can be shared on the organisation’s social media and website. It should also be archived by the acquiring organisation and shared with the artist
  • The acquiring organisation is welcome to contact the artist to discuss any special requirements for exhibiting You’re On Mute but the conditions of sale can only be edited with signed consent from the artist.

You’re On Mute is a unique artwork. The artist maintains the right to show You’re On Mute.

Conditions of reselling

You’re On Mute can be resold with the same conditions outlined in this document. Artist requirements regarding the process, exhibition and documentation of the work must be adhered to by all future owners of You’re On Mute.

You’re On Mute develops as it is recreated, and distributed over time and place. The works commentary on UK specific feminist issues of the 2020/1 coronavirus pandemic lockdowns will continue to speak of its time and place, while the meaning will adapt to its changing context.

After the first performance of You’re On Mute at Seventeen as part of Performance Exchange 2022 images will be added to this acquisition document.

Collectables

  • You’re On Mute is acquired as a performance installation, including this signed Acquisitions Document including building plans for booth and guidelines for example installation layout, plus

  • Performer feedback form
  • Video file of Dog Cam on harddrive
  • The script
  • Mirror with screen-sized hole
  • Transport fabric curtains
  • Transport fabric beanbags × 5
  • Lamps × 5
  • Yoga mat
  • Access to these links: Nothing Ever Happens by Del Amitri (version: May 2021 Del Amitri & The BBC Concert Orchestra (Radio 2 House Music)) and Yoga with Adriene (any 10 minute video or 10 minute section of a video on her channel)
  • Office chair
  • Book to hide phone inside (cut to fit iPhone 12 mini)
  • Mug with hole in bottom
  • Sock with hole for screen
  • The following props are needed but not included with acquisition of You’re On Mute

  • Mobile phones
  • Mobile phone chargers
  • TV monitor
  • Entire structure of booth
  • GoPro camera
  • Laptop

Equipment

  • Props included with acquisition of You’re On Mute

  • This document including building plans for booth and guidelines for installation layout
  • Performer feedback form
  • Video file of Dog Cam on harddrive
  • The script
  • Mirror with screen-sized hole
  • Transport fabric curtains
  • Transport fabric beanbags × 5
  • Lamps × 5
  • Yoga mat
  • Office chair
  • Book to hide phone inside (cut to fit iPhone 12 mini)
  • Mug with hole in bottom
  • Sock with hole for screen
  • Props needed but not included with acquisition of You’re On Mute

  • Mobile phones
  • Mobile phone chargers
  • TV monitor
  • Entire structure of booth
  • GoPro camera
  • Laptop (with internet connectivity to access to these links: Nothing Ever Happens by Del Amitri (version: May 2021 Del Amitri & The BBC Concert Orchestra (Radio 2 House Music)) and Yoga with Adriene (any 10 minute video or 10 minute section of a video on her channel)

You're On Mute