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Piotr Szyhalski,
Empty Words
(so that we can do our living)
  • Photograph Patrick Kelley
  • Photograph Patrick Kelley
  • Photograph Patrick Kelley
  • Photograph Nicole Larson
  • Photograph Nicole Larson

Empty Words is a nine-hour, participatory, multimedia event—equal parts poetry, dance, parade, and concert—constructed around a collective reading of “Empty Words” by John Cage. This elegant and powerful, yet poetic and playful text attempts to “demilitarize language,”  awakening a form of poetic communion that resists being appropriated as a mechanism of control.

Empty Words includes spoken word, live musical performances of Vexations by Erik Satie, projections, art objects, and other actions. This dusk ’til dawn collective contemplation of surrender represents an opening up to a hopeful future–a spontaneous blend of community festival and theatrical performance tempered by an attitude of thoughtful expectation, transforming darkness into light and words into music.  Empty Words aims to celebrate these ideas, “so that we can do our living…”

Empty Words (so that we can do our living)

Empty Words Credits


Michael Aberman
Alyson Coward
Derek Ernster
Vadim Gershman
Ethan Holbrook
Ryan Hughes
Ned Hurley
Jonathan Karen
GraceMarie Keaton
Allegra Lockstadt
Jessica Ashley Nelson
Sandesh Nicol
Emily Reile
Carla Alexandra Rodriguez
Nicole Sanders
Ben Severns
Vijaya Suravajala
Piotr Szyhalski
Pramila Vasudevan
Katy Vonk
Sheila Wagner
Annie Yiling Wang


Jonathan Ten Brink, baritone
Joe Durben, clarinet
Andrea French, cello
John Keston, keyboard, electronics
Steven Leung, electric violin
Dylan Nau, synthesizer
Nick Nguyen, violin
Erik Ostrom, accordion
Brian Rowe, bass
Nicole Sanders, piano
Michael Selle, saxophone
Sara Thompson, double bass
Andy Vaaler, accordion


Andrea Fulkerson
Pamela Johnson
Robert Luna
Don Myhre
Jack FX Pavlik

Sound Booth

Brian Nigus “Sightseer,” 2011, mixed media
Courtesy of the artist

Piotr Szyhalski

Polish-born, U.S.-based multimedia artist Piotr Szyhalski has in the past decade established the Labor Camp—an ongoing art project that includes interactive components (digital and physical), original music, performances, videos, printed ephemera, texts, a blog, and an archive of online resources. Moving between fine arts (painting, photography, drawing, installation), sound, media art, and design, Szyhalski’s multi-layered works often explore communication/exchange, extreme historical phenomena, and relationships between the individual and society/history/time.

His work has been exhibited worldwide at such venues as the International Center of Photography, the New York Expo Film Festival, Siggraph, ISEA Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the San Jose Museum of Art, and Experimenta Design in Lisbon, Portugal, and featured in a variety of catalogues and publications. Pieces are in the collections of the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and others. In addition to his own performance-based projects, he was commissioned to develop large-scale interactive, live projections for Wim Mertens quartet in Brussels (1998), the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (2001), and VocalEssence (2004).

He recently released two CDs as Labor Camp Orchestra for the multimedia installations Theater of Operations (2007, 2009). Szyhalski is currently a professor of media arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the recipient of the 2009–2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Visual Artists.

Presentation of “Empty Words” (so that we can do our living) at Northern Spark is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. Presented by Northern; John Cage’s Empty Words, Part III copyright ©1975 by John Cage. Used by permission of C.F. Peters Corporation. All rights reserved.

Labor Camp is grateful to the many artists, musicians, volunteers, and professionals who helped make this project possible.

Special thanks to Steve Dietz and Andrea Steudel of Northern Lights: We Are Working All The Time!