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