Books

Immersive Artistic Journeys for Audiences of One

The New York-based Odyssey Works crafts incredibly personal journeys for one person, supported by an engaged community of artists.

Odyssey Works
Members of the public throw messages in bottles off a pier in Red Hook for a scene of Jen Harmon’s Odyssey (photo by Elizabeth Eisenstein)

An Odyssey Works experience is an act of infiltration, where one person’s life is augmented, whether over a single day or a series of months, with artistic interventions. That tattered book with strange scribbling recently gifted by a friend, or the appearance of modern dancers in red throughout the city, might not just be random events when you’re in an Odyssey Works production. They hint at a narrative being constructed just for one participant, that with its incredible personalization stands out from the urban blare.

Odyssey Works
Cover of Odyssey Works (courtesy Princeton Architectural Press)

“We aren’t interested in exclusivity so much as finding a different kind of audience/artist relationship, one more relational and less transactional,” Abraham Burickson, cofounder and artistic director of the New York-based Odyssey Works, told Hyperallergic. This weekend, the public has an opportunity to participate in two scenes that are part of a 36-hour “Odyssey” for Ayden LeRoux, the Odyssey Works assistant director, who is soon moving to Austin, Texas. The gatherings are the afternoon of this Saturday, November 12, in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and morning of Sunday, November 13, in Baltimore. These are both in conjunction with the launch of the new book Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One by Burickson and LeRoux from Princeton Architectural Press.

Odyssey Works
A dance choreographed by Jen Harmon and performed for Rick Moody on the Brooklyn Bridge (Dancers: Maya Orchin, Kristin Swiat, Jessica Myers, Lydia Chrisman, Annie Saeugling, Giovanna Gamma) (photo by by Ayden LeRoux)

Earlier this week, Burickson wrote a statement on “After Trump: Why Art Must Go On” looking toward these events, beginning with a sentiment that resonates with many in the creative fields: “It seemed frivolous, like painting the house while Vesuvius is erupting.” But he went on:

I believe that art is a kind of applied ethical inquiry  —  an exploration of the self that allows the fundamental nature of our life in the world  —  the aesthetics, the rhythms, the social relationships, the psychological orientation, even its material nature  —  to be actively questioned. In any of these we may move toward fear or toward empathy, toward the fortress of the ego or the expansiveness of a life together. In a moment of art or performance we have the opportunity to engage these investigations together.

Burickson explained to Hyperallergic that “though our work is for an audience of one, really, there is no audience.” Instead “the work is the creation of a temporary community designed to manifest a particular experience. The audience of one — we call this person the participant —is the focal point, but that person simply becomes the source material and the point of view around which the piece is made.”

Odyssey Works
Leanne Zacharias playing “When I Left The House It Was Still Dark” inside the observatory in Saskatchewan (photo by Ayden LeRoux)

The Odyssey Works book is part documentation, part analysis of immersive art trends, and part manual delving into their 15 years of work. There is color coding in the publication for principals like “intimacy” and “the ephemeral,” and chapters around themes like “Design Experiences, Not Things” and “Being with Empathy.” Empathy is incredibly central, as once a “recipient” is chosen for a journey, every part of their life is explored by the Odyssey team. Acting, art installations, dance, music, secret spaces for which only you have the key — all these elements come together into a highly individual quest.

A famous author found himself experiencing community and isolation when he discovered the same scrap of cello music he overheard in an abandoned store in Downtown Brooklyn on a prairie in Saskatchewan; while an information architect was pulled from his mind into his body as he walked the length of Central Park, encountering friends and dancing strangers, and carried a rather heavy rock the whole way. No matter the action, whether having a moment to write in seclusion in a shack covered with book pages, or throwing bottled messages with a crowd into the New York Harbor, each aspect of an Odyssey Works experience is above all about using the lens of art to empathetically augment, even momentarily, our shared reality.

Odyssey Works
“Book House” installation made by Ayden LeRoux while working with Carl Collins in Oak Hill, New York (photo by Ayden LeRoux)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A narrative graph for an odyssey in Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Odyssey Works
A gathering of fools in MetroTech Commons for the public scene of Rick Moody’s performance (photo by Ayden LeRoux)

Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One is out now from Princeton Architectural Press.

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