What Makes a Compliment Fake or Genuine? A PAR project

In performing two iterations of Complimentary Compliments, I explored the significance of the relationship between compliment giver and receiver in the process of compliment exchanges. “Take a Compliment, Leave a Compliment” focused on anonymous compliments, while “Compliment Sandwich” explored the reactions between the giver and receiver of in-person compliments.

Take a Compliment, Leave a Compliment in Performance

I performed this iteration six times in three locations with a few different parameters on each.  By adjusting some of the circumstances around the installation I hoped to gain insight into the effect I had on the interaction by being present as well as absent.  I also was not sure about what location would yield the most interaction and chose to perform this at a coffee shop, the lobby of the FAC, and at a rehearsal for The LightRail Plays.  

In the first installation, I set up at a table at Cartel Coffee in Tempe on a Sunday morning.  I arranged the installation to face the door as customers walked in, but decided to have my laptop out and work on homework simultaneously.  In this performance, I rode the line of being physically present but tried to resist actively recruiting an audience to participate.  Interestingly out of the two hours I sat there only 3 people acknowledged the project and none of those actually spoke to me or actively participated.   

The second, third, and fifth performances were set up at the FAC lobby.  The second performance featured just the installation which I left out on the lobby tables while I was at rehearsal.  From the before and after pictures (Figures 6 & 7), it looks like one participant came through and both took and left a compliment.  The third and fourth performances I was present for.  During performance three I set up the installation, but then sat away from it so that I could observe and not intrude on participants.  In the fifth performance, I sat with the installation and engaged with participants as they interacted with the installation.  

Performances four and six were installed at our rehearsal space for The Light Rail plays.  The first time I installed it without explaining it or alerting anyone to its presence. While few interacted with it during this performance, I did get questions about it as I cleaned it up at the end of rehearsal, which prompted me to bring it back a few days later and perform it again with a “shameless plug” to play with it before clean up.  

Compliment Sandwich in Performance

Prior to the performance I crafted individual compliments for each person in the class and wrote these on one piece of “bread”.  It took about an hour to design and prepare the “bread slices” and another hour to design and record the compliments.  I chose to go last during our class time presentations because that felt the most appropriate to me and I also thought it might provide me with more material to connect to when it came time for the extemporaneous compliments.  

At the beginning of my time, I passed out slices of “bread” and asked each person to find a comfortable spot in the room and take a minute to call to mind one of the best compliments they had received and write this down on the piece of “bread”.  Next, I invited everyone to enter into interactions with each other where they might exchange, give, or take (or not) their compliments.  I also explained that during this time I would be coming around to each individual to pay them a compliment.  

Participants started out in conversation pairs and quickly moved to clumps.  I found that I had to ask to “steal” a person away so that we could have our one-on-one interaction.  During these, I did not read off the card but rather improvised a compliment using the card as a starting point for the exchange or note on what I was building to.  The reactions were varied from polite thank yous to hugs to reciprocated compliments.  I’ll analyze these more particularly in the next section.

I ran out of time to do the final exchange after I had completed the one-on-one moments and skipped right to recording and sending a social media post to me about the experience.  I also gave the option to email me the reflection post.

Read on to see what I learned from this performance as research project.