Fantasies of social harmony, etiquette and slapstick

March 1, 2011

By Ana Prvacki

Being half Romanian made me only half a stranger growing up in Yugoslavia. As a teenager my family immigrated to Singapore as Yugoslavia was self-destructing. Living in Singapore as an East European teenager was doubly foreign, as puberty can be a kind of exile, similar to a culture shock you would have coming from Eastern Europe to South East Asia overnight. Plutarch wrote, "The soul is itself exiled, errant, an arrival from elsewhere. Birth is a voyage into a foreign land". Within this foreign land, assimilation and adaptation are like survival mechanisms, important techniques within the choreography where appropriate behavior and etiquette are essential. To me these rituals of protocol hold a promise of social harmony, or at least engage a fantasy of it, opening doors for others and shaking hands with intent could possibly save the world if repeated enough times. Besides its promise of social harmony, manners have comedic potential.

Even though good behavior and etiquette can be perceived as an outdated and rigid practice the possibility of a slapstick situation or at least a faux pas is endless. From Emily Post to the Comedy of manners and Borat, manners and the failure to be mannered go hand in hand. A proper handshake should be firm but not bone crunching.


Einstein thought the most important question facing humanity should be, “Is the universe a friendly place?” and Kurt Vonnegut asked that we practice “A little less love, and a little more common decency." Greeting Committee, by Ana Prvacki, considers these ideas by magnifying and zooming in on the protocols and customs of basic hospitality routines, such as greetings, salutations and welcoming. For her project at the Hammer, visitors are invited to observe or participate in interventions encouraging gestures of welcoming in the Wilshire lobby Thursday, April 7 through Sunday, April 10 from 12-4pm each day.