“The Year of Oratory”

by Evan Holloway


In the final week of 2002 I had an idea. I thought the coming year, 2003, should be called “ The Year of Oratory.” Now, four years later, I can’t recall exactly how it all came about, but the ideas behind it are still the same.

Shortly after midnight, at a New Year’s party at Kerry Tribe and Mungo Thomson’s home in Los Angeles, I gave a brief speech from the top of the stairs. I had a couple of motivations. First of all, I think parties are better when there is some point in the evening when all the guests focus on the same thing at the same time. It is so wasteful to not take advantage of the energy of groups to create a special space. Any simple thing will do the job, even a piñata.

Secondly, at the time I was suffering terribly from a disappointment with my art-scene. I looked around me and I saw a group of very smart, talented, and creative individuals who must have a lot of interesting things in their minds, but all my conversations at parties were pretty unsatisfying, mostly boring. Far too much talk about real estate. I wanted this to be the art-scene of my dreams, wild ideas, eccentricand eccentric behavior. What I imagined to be the fun of the Weimar Cafés, the Bauhaus Balls, Beatnik parties and Gertrude Stein’s salon’s. Memorable soirees and clever antics. Here I was, in the center of an allegedly hip art scene, with some resources at its disposal, and it wasn’t even nearly as fun as when I spent my time in scrappy regional scenes.

So I made the speech. I named 2003 “The Year Of Oratory” and I expressed my desire to know what was in the minds of my peers. I asked that people make short speeches at parties, publicly express their ideas in a somewhat formalized way, just for the sake of making things more interesting. I asked that the speeches not be considered “artwork” and that they not be recorded. It was midnight on New Years so maybe not everyone understood. Also, why would anyone want to pick up my idea and run with it?

I continued to promote the idea in conversation. People seemed to like it but many expressed a fear of public speaking. Only one person ever did anything like it. Gerald Davis stood on a chair at a party at Bettina Hubby’s house and asked a couple of general, and possibly derogatory, questions about another young LA artist. People left the room. I guess it was seen as a little ugly. No one took up his challenge.

The event that most closely matched my vision was at my 38th birthday party. I had sent out invitations and requested that in lieu of bringing a present, that people would please consider presenting a humorous anecdote, party trick, demonstration or brief lecture. At last. A song was sung, a joke was told, anand an amazing party trick involving a broom, an egg, and a glass of water was performed by Ivan Golinko. Oh, if only these things happened more often. Probably several factors contributed to this success. Everyone knew each other, the instructions were sent out early and were somewhat explicit, people felt obligated because it was my birthday, and it was also an opium tea party.

The “Year of Oratory” failed for several reasons. It was too much my idea, people probably didn’t understand what I was getting at and thought I was just promoting my own artwork, a more complete explanation and promotion less associated with one individual might have helped. Also, people are just too uptight. Myself included. Honestly, though. I find social safety in the formality of a structured event,event; I really wish we would make these happen more often. There is actually less to be afraid of when there is an armature to act within.

I made a further investigation into this idea of the social armature in 2005-2006 when I studied old-fashioned social dancing. Again, I had been thinking about parties and social events and thinking it sad that people don’t dance very much anymore because there is a lot of fear around the act of dancing. Previous to this era, social dancing still had a life, people learned dances to do together, even in the early years of rock and roll there were still formalized movements that were named and taught so that people would know what to do on the dance floor, the mashed potato, the twist, etc. Before that the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, the Fox Trot, before that the Waltz, before that Quadrille and court dances, peasant dances… a whole history of human social joy based upon simple rules that anyone could follow. Today, one goes to a wedding and no-oneno one knows how to behave on a dance floor. This terrible loss has its origins in the late sixties and in psychedelia.

In late sixties dancing, the emphasis was put upon the individual getting out on the floor and expressing. No formal moves must be learned, but it puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on the individual to be authentic. No wonder everyone is scared today. The safety of a simple “forward-side-together, forward-side-together” allowed awkward and uptight folks a chance to enjoy the movement. The formal rules provide a way for strangers to take on a simple task together. ItsIt’s so much easier to interact if they don’t have to make it all up as they go along.