Art

A Giant Prayer Wheel in the Heart of Times Square

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FAILE, “Wishing on You,” 2015 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

A giant, beautifully hand-carved, wooden prayer wheel has appeared in the heart of Times Square, courtesy of Brooklyn-based artist duo FAILE. Standing seven-feet-tall on the major thoroughfare of Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets, “Wishing on You” is the largest iteration of artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller’s signature guerrilla prayer wheel sculptures; not only upsized, it also takes shelter in a decorated, temple-like structure fitted with neon lights. Unlike their previous prayer wheels, which have appeared in public at random, “Wishing on You” emerged as a Times Square Arts project, in collaboration with FAILE’s ongoing exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, Savage/Sacred Young Minds.

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(click to enlarge)

The structure stands as a temple of desire, with nearly every section of its surface decorated with colorful text and imagery related to themes of vanity and consumption. Rather than the expected spiritual mantras emblazoned on traditional prayer wheels, eye-catching letters spell out words like “Celebrity,” “LOTTERY,” “XXX MOVIES,” and “The Generation of Sensation” that cover the upper frieze and the stepped platform of the wheel’s surrounding structure, interspersed with American folk-art patterns. Below the frieze, squares recalling the metopes on classical Greek temples serve as additional mini billboards. The prayer wheel itself is a patchwork of flashy advertisements and promotions — a veritable reflection of the actual electric commercials surrounding it on all sides. Branding “Wishing on You” is FAILE’s own name and the pair’s signature 1986 insignia, both stamped all over the structure.

Nearby, a small sign provides instructions to passersby:

Engage this interactive sculpture by spinning the central column, and meditate on the role of spirituality and desire in Times Square. The act of spinning will power the sculpture’s neon lights and illuminate the neighborhood’s storied past — its nickel arcades, glossy ads, and carnivalesque spirit.

Traditionally, spinning a prayer wheel is supposed to have the same effect of reciting a prayer, helping individuals calm and cleanse their minds. Rather than evoking the quiet meditation of traditional prayer wheels, FAILE’s rendition presents a column of loud voices clamoring for one’s attention; the brilliance of the neon lights that appear upon turning the wooden cylinder creates an atmosphere that’s the opposite of tranquil. “Wishing on You,” set in one of the world’s advertisement capitals, is a temple devoted not to serenity and sanctity but to consumerism — a biting commentary on what our society values and considers sacred today.

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Interestingly, many people did not seem aware of the work’s interactive nature, engaging with “Wishing on You” mostly by photographing or sitting on it. Those who did try to spin the wooden wheel often struggled to do so, nudging it by just a few inches. The wheel is simply too heavy for many individuals to move on their own, which may suggest an even darker present: are our lives saturated with commercial distractions to the point that experiencing true peacefulness is simply unfeasible?

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Wishing on You continues in Times Square on Broadway Plaza between 42nd and 43rd Sts. through September 1.

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