[ISEA2022] Artist Talk: Sahar Sajadieh — “How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO”: A Performance Revisit with a Therapeutic Robot

Artist Statement 

June 10, Remote Artist talk. Session: Creative process, performative expression and perception of reality

Keywords: Robotic Performance, Participatory Durational Art, Political Performance, Therapeutic Robotic Artwork, Performance Revisit

How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO is a participatory durational performance by Sahar Sajadieh and a therapeutic robotic seal named PARO. Using PARO as emotional catalyst, this artwork invites the audience to express their emotions and thoughts on gun control policies and school shootings in the United States.

How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO is a performative expression of affect and empathy: a peaceful theatrical protest to bring attention to the gun-control policies in America by inviting the audience to watch and explain the pictures on the wall. In the first half of the three-hour-long durational performance, the performer holds, cradles, and dances with the interactive robotic seal PARO, while showing her the lively pictures of the dead students on the wall and the livestreaming gun-control related tweets on the screen; she whispers, screams, and cries all over the performance space and invites the audience to do the same using their words and bodies in the second half. This work is a performative call to the community to make their affective responses explicit, to bring out, to express, and to perform their embodied agitation in a space where words are not sufficient anymore.

This artwork is a digital performance revisit of Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). I define the concept of “Performance Revisit,” as opposed to “Performance Reenactment.” While “Performance Reenactment” functions as a living archive of a well-known performance in history, “Performance Revisit” is a performative response to a historical performance with new objectives and questions in mind. The purpose of making a performance revisit is to ask questions, provoke dialogue, and evoke affective responses in audience. By drawing a line back in history to Beuys’s performance, this work creates a dialectical tension with the past and brings attention to current issues in society. While Beuys performs his anxiety of intellectualizing arts in his performance, How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO is a performative response to the disturbing anxiety of seeing ever-growing victims of gun-violence and on-going absurd debates between pro and anti gun control policy defendants.

  • Sahar Sajadieh is a digital media/performance artivist (artist + activist) and theorist, and computer scientist. She obtained her Ph.D. in Media Arts and Technology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. She graduated with a dual BSc–BA degree in Computer Science and Theater from UBC and received her Master’s Degree from the Performance Studies program at NYU. Sahar’s practice-led research lies at the intersection of computational performance, artificial intelligence, social justice-oriented design, and performance/media theory. She is interested in the application of natural language processing, machine learning, and extended reality as means of storytelling, poetic expression, and social intervention. For Sahar, computational performance practice is a form of activism, a way to challenge the public’s comfort zone and provoke dialogues about unspoken issues in society. Her research focuses on making interactive artificially intelligent technologies more alive and human to us, and their application more ethical and humane in society.