‘Office of Blame Accountability, who do you blame?”
I blame God for making Minnesota too cold in the winter.
I blame my ex-husband for not giving me a child.
I blame the police for being racist against Latinos.
“With whom would you like to place your blame?”
Myself. I chose to live in the state.
Myself. I stayed with him too long.
Myself. I saw an incident and didn’t say anything.
These are just a few responses from thousands of complaints filed with the Office of Blame Accountability since 2007. The office isn’t part of any government or nonprofit organization, but it very well could be, says artist Carla Repice.
“It’s sort of like the DMV or any sort of government office,” Repice says. “Only the paperwork is, who do you blame, what do you blame them for, and then what is your role?”
Repice, 40, and Geoffrey Cunningham, 37, who met while studying at Lorenzo de’ Medici school of art in Italy, started the performance art project Office of Blame Accountability while working on a separate project in California. The two artists, now self-proclaimed “blame accountants,” were frustrated by the lack of accountability by the media, government, and individuals.
“It was seven years into the Bush administration. We were full on into the two wars,” Repice said in a call from her residence in Union City, N.J.
Repice had recently purchased a red 1920s telephone at a flea market. As they sat on a bench outside Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana discussing whom to blame for personal and countrywide problems, Repice brought up the idea of the phone representing an emergency call.
“We were talking about blame accountability, and there was this red phone, and we thought, ‘Ok, let’s create an office. . . . Let’s place a desk on the sidewalk and facilitate a space where people can engage this idea of blame and accountability,’ ” she said.
Within an hour, they set up a desk and placed a typewriter, mock blame forms, and, of course, the telephone on top. They then started asking random passersby, “Do you have any blame to place?”
The question caught people’s attention.
The two have since taken the performance work to the Democratic and Republican national conventions, Ground Zero, and Wall Street, among other locations. This weekend, the office will open in Boston for the first time. The public can file blame forms in Copley Square in front of Trinity Church Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Anyone with blame to place is invited to fill out a form. Cunningham will read aloud who is being blamed and what for. The red phone then rings, and the participant can take the phone and have a personal dialogue about the blame, which is recorded by the phone.
“Of course, nobody is on the other end of the line,” Repice said. “It’s just you, but a lot of people participate.”
Once the call ends, Cunningham gives the form the official “Stamp of Accountability,” files it away, and hands the participant a yellow copy with a receipt.
“The idea is we take their blame. You take your accountability,” Cunningham said in a call from San Diego, where he lives. “It’s pretty much playing make-believe, and people want to play along.”
The forms tend to take on a theme depending on the office’s location — there’s a lot of blaming Republicans or Democrats at political events — but Repice said blame is really a nonpartisan issue.
“It doesn’t matter what your political agenda is or the location because blame is this universal thing that I think everybody feels,” she said.
The point is to make people see that even when they blame someone, they still have a role, Cunningham said.
“You could be against the war, but if you’re paying taxes, you’re paying for the war,” he said.
While some people approach the office as a joke, others take it more seriously.
At the Democratic National Convention, where people filed form after form blaming George Bush, Dick Cheney, and corporations, one man filed a form for his daughter’s death in a car accident.
“With whom do you place your blame?” Repice asked.
“Myself,” the man answered. “I could have changed her schedule that morning.”
“Something like that comes out of left field,” Cunningham said.
The process may be cathartic for some participants, he explained, but the artists are not therapists. In fact, the two accountants — who fund the project themselves — avoid digressing from their script.
However, the artists will give participants the chance to ask questions at a lecture on Saturday at the deCordova museum, where they will discuss their project and present some of the recorded audio files after setting up their office in the sculpture garden.
This type of participatory event allows audiences “to have a voice in the artwork,” said Emily Gardner, the museum’s public programs manager. She added that participatory artwork has become more popular in the last decade.
The Office of Blame Accountability event is also sponsored by Trinity Church in Boston. Kathy Acerbo-Bachmann, director of Trinity’s Art & Architecture Programs, picked up “The Office of Blame Accountability” in a bookstore thinking it was a notebook. She was surprised to read the blame forms as she flipped through the book, published in 2010, and decided to bring the artists to Boston.
“[The project is] really looking at ethics and accepting personal responsibility in a totally different way,” she said.
While not many people set up imaginary offices in the middle of streets, Cunningham said he considers the performance artwork a public service that allows people to point fingers but also be held accountable.
“A lot of people choose to just stop at blame,” he said. “We’re just trying to offer the space where people can take it another step further if they want to.”
OFFICE OF BLAME ACCOUNTABILITY
Performance art by Carla Repice and Geoffrey Cunningham
Trinity Church, 206 Clarendon St., 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, free; deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Road Lincoln, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, free with museum admission, (Artist talk to follow at 2 p.m.)