What could be a better catwalk than 14th Street? Well, probably most places. It’s crowded, noisy, cluttered with retail, and not one of the most attractive streets in Manhattan. Yet in its two week run from October 5 to 15, Art in Odd Places, involving more than 100 artists tackling the theme of “Model” for its eighth edition, transformed it into a place where sudden moments of fashion and style could appear, provided you were in the right place at the right time. While the event has a program listing all the projects, finding them, many of which are roving or have vague descriptions, requires a sharp eye. This attentiveness to the street around you can make everything suddenly feel like it could be part of the art. The sad person in a cow costume with a handful of paper? No, they are advertising a halloween store. But the woman dressed as Carmen Miranda? Yes, it’s artist Sasha Sumner, and she’ll offer you a banana with a secret message of the fruit’s unsavory production history.
I spent an afternoon exploring Art in Odd Places this past Saturday, encountering projects both interactive and passive, and both subdued and ostentatious, scattered throughout 14th Street and Union Square. The “Model” theme asked artists to focus on fashion, prototypes, posing, imitation, planning, and systems, and the results were incredibly varied. Piero Passacantando in “I Paint You. You Paint Me.” invited passerbys to take over the easel across from his own to create portraits of each other, with the two representations then exchanged.
The participatory projects were definitely among the most interesting, especially in how they challenged the social boundaries of public space, where you wouldn’t ordinarily have direct and personal interactions with a stranger. For example, while in Union Square I happened upon artist Gema Alava, who was reading palms and after a talk about the future and the potentials of my life and love lines, gave me maps to secret art in New York and San Francisco.
Nearby at the chaotic southeast corner of Union Square, I put on a pair of headphones and joined an audience for Jérôme Porsperger‘s entrancing “The Invisible Concert.” The artist was conducting a soaring symphony to the careening traffic, which was only audible once you were hooked into his music, after which the city noise was muffled beneath the recorded orchestra.
Suddenly I saw Lainie Love Dalby wearing a precariously tall sculptural head ornament and offering intimate blessings to people in Union Square. These blessings were intended to activate “all twelve” senses and offer a profound and spiritual moment of healing on the street.
Dalby’s amazing outfit was only rivaled by those at Pallavi Sen‘s “Lover Photo Studio,” which were available to visitors who wanted to upgrade their identities through her handmade colorful costumes, with the results then photographed to capture the fashion spectacle.
Sudden acts of spectacle were the most visually striking moments I encountered in Art in Odd Places, also including Steve Rossi who was rolling his “Reciprocal Ladder” down the length of 14th Street, turning the “ladder of success” into an endless loop, taking away both its symbolism and function.
While Union Square was definitely the epicenter for performances, there were several I happened upon in the surrounding 14th Street blocks, such as Faith Holland‘s “Everyday Makeup.” In the performance, she layered on a whole week’s worth of make up and then took it off in layers, the process commenting on the time, money, and personal alteration that goes into this ritual.
Over in front of the New York Ear and Eye Infirmary, Amelia Marzec was demonstrating “Re-wired,” which is an inventive project that she built inside a helmet to translate “ambient sound into haptic feedback using bone conduction technology.” She became interested in this technology after losing hearing in one of her ears, and this is a cheaper, less invasive, and much more DIY solution to having a device drilled into her skull.
Down at the other end of 14th at the High Line entrance was a Twister-inspired project by the StatusHoe Collective, which includes artists Susanne Bifano, Leenda Bonilla, Edwin González-Ojeda, and Susan Natacha Gonzalez. Instead of primary colors, the game was populated with flesh tones arranged like a runway, their even division a contrast to the actual skin colors represented in fashion shows.
StatusHoe member Edwin González-Ojeda also had a project of his own, with images from his “Gay Graffiti” series pasted up among other street art. His was one of many projects in Art and Odd Places that was unlabeled as associated with the event, and instead blended into the existing urban topography of the street. Although projects like this didn’t stop me in my tracks quite like a sidewalk game of Twister, they still added some subtle artistic vibrancy to the street.
Another of these was Ghana ThinkTank‘s “Street Sign Actions,” which were practically camouflaged among all the street signs, declaring unofficial rules alongside the city regulations.
Blending into a hardware store window was Skowmon Hastanan‘s neon “Paradise” sign, proclaiming the shop a place for the realization of artistic dreams through its offerings.
Emil Alzamora’s “Ascetics” astronaut didn’t blend in much at all, yet still managed to hide itself among the street façades. Slumped as if defeated between a sushi restaurant and a bar, the grounded spaceman represented “humankind’s fallible effort to transcend its natural limitations.”
A couple of projects even offered art for free for those lucky enough to spot it. Graffiti duo George Spencer and Jason Shaker Pinilla tagged tiny delivery trucks and placed them throughout the street, a miniature reflection of the rumbling giants that plowed through the adjacent roads.
Then there was See Me Tell Me‘s similarly street art-inspired small dresses, 200 of which were connected with magnets to street surfaces where they waited for a discerning passerby to spot the diminutive garments.
As I returned to Union Square, the last project I saw was Nuria Montiel‘s innovative “Walking Words,” where different plastic shoe soles were made into letters to create a sort of giant letterpress. It is one of those ideas that seems so simple, but is powerful in its concept. That is really the whole strength behind Art in Odd Places. Just small acts of altering our everyday paths through art can be transforming, even for a moment, and remind you to keep a better eye out on the city surroundings that so often turn into a blur of people, buildings, and traffic in which the rewarding details of a place are lost.
Art in Odd Places: Model was October 5 to 15, 2012 along 14th Street and in Union Square in Manhattan.