Reflection: Give Your Thoughts and Win

Sally Wills is an MLitt Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art) student from Liverpool. She is undertaking a work placement with Kevin Leomo, Community and Engagement Manager for the College of Arts & Humanities. Her research focuses on concepts of dwelling, domesticity and locality. 

My thoughts on Give Your Thoughts and Win, an alternative pub quiz I attended on Wednesday 17th April. Upon entering the space, I was welcomed by the performer Shona Macnaughton, enthusiastically shaking my hand. “Thank you for keeping the University alive,” She uttered echoing the Artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who in 2016 greeted each member of the New York Sanitation team with “Thank you for keeping New York Alive”.

A droning sound reverberated in the background whilst I chatted amongst my friends. I had brought a couple of them to accompany me, but none of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into, having only read a fraction of the event’s description – and yet we were all piqued with intrigue.

With pints in hand, we settled onto a table decorated with a laser-cut out of a bottle and spray can with a skull and cross bones motif, alongside a label reading ‘Hazards’.  This was our team’s name, Macnaughton explained as the quiz began, and we were joined by the other teams, ‘Women’, ‘Boring’, and ‘Union’. “Give us a smile,” she instructed team Women, “Give us a fist,” she directed team Union, “This is booooring,” team Boring were forced to cry out. Macnaughton managed us as part of the performance, some reacting with more enthusiasm than others as we all tried to make sense the rules of the game. 

We were still reeling when the first question was called: “What is it you really do?” I am transported to the corporate landscape, my peers become my colleagues as I attempted to justify my role and how I contribute to the workplace. It felt important somehow and yet so trivial in the context of a pub quiz. 

“How often does your work-self, get in the way of your personal-self?”, “What aliments does your job give you?”, “Where do you feel these most in your body?”, “If you were to do your job again, would you hesitate… or do it without consideration?” Between each question, Macnaughton lets out a shrill scream, foot stomping, or a yell of “No!” to signify the end of the time limit. And then, each answer is either quickly dismissed or glossed over with a trail of the obscure, or never really answered at all. 

Throughout the performance, Macnaughton really encapsulates a managerial role. There’s a strictness, despite what she’s saying being so unserious. In turn, the crowd let out a lot of those awkward half-laughs when you don’t know if it’s appropriate to or not. Our team is given an extra 14 points during part-time, or perhaps we were handed a size 14 clothing tag, – did any of this really count for anything? Was anyone really keeping score? What question are we even on?

Towards the end of the performance, Hannah Proctor takes the stage to introduce her new book titled “Burn Out”, a phrase we commonly associate with the workplace, and according to google images: white women sat their work desks, grabbing at their hair with frazzled expressions. Proctor reads out the University’s self-care strategies to prevent burnout: “Put pictures up of your friends and family, have a hot drink and listen to bird song or rainfall, sit by a window and top tip: regularly check in with your manager.” Initially, I am led to believe this is all part of the performance, but Proctor explains this text is taken directly from the source. A testament to the performances’ themes. 

After the 2008 financial crash, burn-out has commonly been seen as a contemporary condition. However, historically burn-out relates to socio-political causes. Freudenberger coined the term in relation to the free clinics in 1970s New York, reflecting on the fatigue faced by volunteers in healthcare. This was personal to him, having experienced feelings of guilt and stress in relation to the social justice aims of the clinic. This was not a physical fatigue, but specific emotional investment, in alignment with disappointment, loss, and grief. Proctor brings this into a contemporary context with our international solidarity at a time of conflict. Proctor attempts to revolutionise burn-out, proposing anyone who can feel normal and well-adjusted in this late-stage Capitalism and are the ones needing psychiatric help. 

The quiz ends with one final question: “If you were to do this quiz again would you hesitate… or do it without consideration?” Ironically, the following day I received an email to complete a survey about the event; I completed it anyway, despite left wondering if my feedback will mean anything.