Art

An Edward Snowden Statue, Slow Dancing with Strangers, and More Art in Odd Places

Katya Grokhovsky's "Slow Dance," with passersby invited to slow dance on the street
Katya Grokhovsky’s “Slow Dance,” with passersby invited to slow dance on the street, part of the 2014 Art in Odd Places (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

This year, Art in Odd Places (AiOP) considered value, public space, and freedom along 14th Street, from the Avenue C Con Edison station to the High Line, even dipping into the Hudson River. The festival has been an annual intervention on 14th Street since 2008, and FREE was a timely contemplation on the worth of art in a New York City that feels increasingly expensive.

Yet, year after year, AiOP manages to spark moments of magic without a budget, without city permissions, through a bevy of volunteers and a belief that creativity is possible and even necessary regardless of limitations. I’ve been attending the event since 2009, when I volunteered to help carry some giant letters in LOUDspeaker’s R-A-L-L-Y. There are pieces that stay with me in my personal geography of the street, from Jérôme Porsperger’s “The Invisible Concert” in 2012 conducted to traffic, listenable only on headphones installed by a Union Square memorial, to Daniel Bejar altering the subway signs to the old Dutch Breucklen and Mary Ivy Martin kissing trees leaving them ringed with lipstick marks in 2011.

Leah Harper's "Complimentary" gumball machine installed by the High Line entrance on 14th Street
Leah Harper’s “Complimentary” gumball machine installed by the High Line entrance on 14th Street
A compliment received from Leah Harper's "Complimentary" gumball machine
A compliment received from Leah Harper’s “Complimentary” gumball machine (apologies from the author for her shredded nail polish)

This year’s festival, curated by Juliana Driever and Dylan Gauthier, was shorter than in years past, just stretching over this past weekend (last year it went for two). From October 17 to 18, the first Indianapolis AiOP will be staged, also on the FREE theme, with some of the same artists participating. With only a Saturday afternoon to spend exploring, what I saw was a fraction of the 62 projects. Part of what brings me back to AiOP each year is this sense of discovery, however, and the serendipity of what you may find, and what you might miss. The map and program give some direction, but I was still surprised when I walked to the High Line entrance for Leah Harper’s “Complimentary” gumball machine dispensing crowdsourced messages of encouragement, and saw Katya Grokhovsky’s “Slow Dance” alongside. In the piece, Grokhovsky and volunteers offered to slow dance with passersby, and despite the intimacy of it on a public sidewalk, a couple of strangers were swaying slowly in the sunshine.

Katya Grokhovsky's "Slow Dance," with passersby invited to slow dance on the street, at left alongside the High Line entrance
Katya Grokhovsky’s “Slow Dance,” with passersby invited to slow dance on the street, at left alongside the High Line entrance
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Sarah Burrell and Andrew Simpson (LudiCity), “Listening Post,” one of six installed on 14th that you could plug into

FREE was dappled with these interventions of personal connection. Sarah Burrell and Andrew Simpson of LudiCity installed six “Listening Posts” where you could plug in headphones and hear recordings related to surveillance released through the Freedom of Information Act, the one I found had messages left for the NSA. Cupid Ojala channeled Sigmund Freud and wrote “Love Prescriptions” based on participants’ passions among the tables on the pedestrian island outside the Apple store. Clark Stoeckley infiltrated the usual gathering of chess competitions in Union Square with “Chess Draw,” where the artist drew his opponent and the match ended at checkmate or the portrait’s completion.

Clark Stoeckley, "Chess Draw," where the artist drew his opponent and the match ended at checkmate or the portrait's completion
Clark Stoeckley, “Chess Draw,” where the artist drew his opponent and the match ended at checkmate or the portrait’s completion
Cupid Ojala, channeling Sigmund Freud, giving "Love Prescriptions" for participants' passions
Cupid Ojala, channeling Sigmund Freud, giving “Love Prescriptions” for participants’ passions

Freedom and privacy were also a major focus of FREE, such as Joseph Bigley’s “Free Market Cannibalism” enacting the adage: “Laws are like sausages: It’s better not to see them being made.” When I visited his food cart-like set up, he was turning the Citizens United ruling into a paper pulp sausage.

Not far down the street, Jim Dessicino’s giant statue of Edward Snowden loomed over a curious crowd. The mobile work — “in limbo in solidarity with Edward Snowden” — will continue wandering after AiOP. Later I saw Joel Ong and Robert Blatt’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” moving quickly down the block, with the artists wearing electronics to capture and then augment into electromagnetic fluctuations sounds from the street.

Jim Dessicino, "Edward Snowden Statue"
Jim Dessicino, “Edward Snowden Statue”
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Joseph Bigley, “Free Market Cannibalism,” where the artist turned Supreme Court Rulings into sausages, acting out the adage “Laws are like sausages: It’s better not to see them being made.”
Joel Ong and Robert Blatt, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," where they turned street sound into electromagnetic fluctuations
Joel Ong and Robert Blatt, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” where they turned street sound into electromagnetic fluctuations

Below are more photographs of projects from the 2014 Art in Odd Places. Whether a comment on value or personal freedom, they all embraced the idea of urban space as public space with possibilities for creativity and the unexpected, even on as busy and developed a Manhattan thoroughfare as 14th Street.

Joel Ong and Robert Blatt, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," where they turned street sound into electromagnetic fluctuations
Joel Ong and Robert Blatt, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” where they turned street sound into electromagnetic fluctuations
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Clover Archer’s “Ordinary” magazine on offer on 14th Street
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Tré Chandler and Jabari Owens-Bailey, “Oprah Wept: Or, Only O Forgives,” with a participant offering a confession
Johannes Rantapuska and Milja Havas, "Flux Flags," installed on the old pilings in the Hudson between Pier 54 and 57 at the end of 14th Street
Johannes Rantapuska and Milja Havas, “Flux Flags,” installed on the old pilings in the Hudson between Pier 54 and 57 at the end of 14th Street
Jen Reimer and Max Stein, "Sounding the City," which played the bells from the church on the opposite side of the street
Jen Reimer and Max Stein, “Sounding the City,” which played the bells from the church on the opposite side of the street
Kara Schmidt, "Defracturing," where sidewalk cracks were "repaired" with tape
Kara Schmidt, “Defracturing,” where sidewalk cracks were “repaired” with tape
Kevin Townsend, "Stria: Lost Time, Misplaced Moments," a temporary drawing on the YMCA
Kevin Townsend, “Stria: Lost Time, Misplaced Moments,” a temporary drawing on the YMCA

Art in Odd Places 2014: FREE was October 9 to 12 on 14th Street from the Hudson River to Avenue C in Manhattan.

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