Paid to ‘Do Nothing’: The Art of Profitably Sitting Still
In economic hard times, when jobs are scarce and the search for one seems fruitless, at some point one may be tempted to give up and say, “There’s nothing more I can do.”But in economically hard-hit Ireland, Galway street illusionists like “Mr. Black” ( the stage name of the seated “statue”, below) and his silently levitating saffron-robed neighbor (left) give that pessimistic thought a different, more hopeful, spin: “I can do more nothing.”
That’s the message implied in their “less-is-more” approach to generating income and art—specifically, through a kind of “non-performance art”.
Earning More by Doing Less
Mr. Black does his non-doing by silently, motionlessly sitting on his self-constructed “throne”(which he created and has occupied since 2006 as a tribute to Irish writer Pádraic Ó Conaire), unblinkingly peering at passersby—including me, completely taken in by the illusion in our first encounters with it and him.
In fact, I wondered how I had overlooked the “statue” during my saunter past the same spot the previous day. (Note:Mr. Black says his work replaces the real Eyre Square commemorative statue of Ó Conairesh that was vandalized, decapitated and eventually moved to the Galway City Museum.)
Working the street on a tacit for-fee basis, i.e., donations, Mr. Black and others like him—not only in Ireland, but all around the world, including in Tallinn, Estonia, where a couple of years ago I met another UK illusionist (shown standing below)—earn or supplement their main livelihoods by literally doing nothing.
In fact, the less they do, the more they make.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Secrets
Any errant twitch, a sneeze or even a subtle shift in posture will ruin Mr. Black’s illusion and chances of making money. The closest analog in nature is the crouching tiger, silently still, eyes on its prey, waiting for the right moment to pounce. One flick of the tail and the game is over, because the game will be gone.
But, despite the common element of motionless illusion (and therefore deception), the analogy is not perfect, since the illusionist’s quarry, quarters, euros and dollars come to him, well within mutual sniffing distance, to offer their money— if not themselves—up, instead of being chased and pulled down.
As for the “levitation” (captured in the unretouched photo, above), “less-is-more” is executed in two ways: through a stiff-upper-lip motionless meditative pose and much less material stuff between the uplifted spirit and the solid ground below.
In fact, apparently zero material stuff. (Wondering how it’s done? Think about it. Better yet, fly to Galway to take a firsthand look, and think some more, or cheat and look for the explanation on YouTube.)
Silent Sitting vs. Collecting Unemployment Benefits
“Paid for doing nothing”—sounds like collecting unemployment benefits? It shouldn’t. Such a comparison between these illusionist careers and collecting unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) will not withstand scrutiny, even though some will argue that such benefits are paid “for doing nothing” and that some on the dole create the illusion of actively looking for work.
(Actually, Mr. Black does a lot more elsewhere than sit: He writes, directs, produces and teaches theatre, has his own theatre company called “Colours Street Theatre” and stages a one-man show called, understandably enough, “The Statue”. By the way, he chose his stage name, “Mr. Black”, to reflect the Colour Street Theatre group’s color-oriented mission.)
First of all, and in general, UIB recipients are still scrambling to find or create work, doing as much as they can to restore their full incomes and lifestyles—including a lot of very visible footwork pounding the pavement to secure a career or a job, any job. Sitting still is the last thing that they try to perfect.
Second, despite the appearance of effortlessness and of doing nothing, creating motionless illusion seems to me to be hard work—as a daunting extension of the universal early childhood physiological challenge of sitting still for even the shortest time. To me, it looks like Yoga pose-holding—something else I have neither the discipline nor the patience for.
Yes, it is “doing nothing”, but doing it masterfully, creatively and unflinchingly. (Regarding the fatigue factor, Mr. Black describes his statue non-performance as “not tiring”—but possibly only because, as he told me, he holds the pose for only five minutes at a time.)
As for the levitationist, he pretty much silently held the pose in the photo all the while, maybe 30 minutes, except for when I “interrupted” him to ask my questions, during which time he conveyed the distinct impression that there was something else he preferred to do instead of the interview. What was that?
To sit it out.