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Finding Art in Odd Places Along 14th Street

"Passing Time" by Joanna Chak (all photos by author)

Art in Odd Places relies on a lot of serendipity, but when it happens it’s wonderful. The annual art event is bringing small and large acts of ceremony with over 60 artists performing, installing, exhibiting and interacting all along 14th Street from October 1 to 10. Following this year’s theme of Ritual, I set out this week to pace 14th street and the paths of Union Square each day to discover what artistic offerings would unexpectedly appear.

Joanna Chak with her project "Passing Time"

On Monday, I found Joanna Chak, who was cheerfully waiting for people who might be waiting in Union Square. She had a silver tray of laser cut clocks in pin, magnet and earring form on which she had tallied how much time she had spent waiting in a year on such habitual things as transportation or groceries. By giving out these offerings to people who were themselves consumed in that mundane ritual of waiting, she was hoping to make people consider how much time is spent in this limbo state of anticipation. “Passing Time” was incredibly playful, although startling when I consider that my wait time for the subway might have amounted to over seven days last year.

"And Then I Said...(Bench Stories)" by Seth Caplan
Seth Caplan listening to "And Then I Said... (Bench Stories)"

Around the corner in the park, I spotted Seth Caplan‘s “And Then I Said… (Bench Stories),” where two listeners could sit on either side of an audio installation that was playing a collection of stories about private connections in public spaces. Caplan said that he will also be installing the sound box on the subway platform of the uptown F/M train at 14th Street during part of Art in Odd Places. Union Square and the subway platform are far from serene, and I like the idea of having this quiet, transporting moment of listening closely to a story, whether it’s from a stranger Caplan approached on the street or his mom.

Was an artist here? ("Tree Kisses" left by Mary Ivy Martin)
More "Tree Kisses" by Mary Ivy Martin

I was less lucky with encountering the artists themselves on Tuesday, although I caught signs they had been there. Actively, almost obsessively, scanning the corners of 14th Street for art had put me into a weird sort of state of mind where everything seemed like it could potentially be art or a subtle performance, but the heavy lipstick marks on a tree were a sure sign Mary Ivy Martin had been there. In her project “Tree Kisses,” she is kissing trees along 14th Street and leaving them ringed with the traces of her very affectionate interaction with nature. Later on Wednesday, I encountered another tree stained with her lips.

"I Call NY" by Concerned New Yorkers

I also spotted a flyer from the Concerned New Yorkers for their project “I Call NY.” If you dial the number listed above (832-422-5569), you can leave a message with a story about your favorite place in the five boroughs. It will then be added to their online map, which already has places like Grant’s Tomb and Prosperity Dumpling. You can click on sound recordings to get the original message for each place, which gives it a lot more intimacy than similar projects, like, say, the Stillspotting map of NYC serenity that the Guggenheim is hosting.

"Bodhi Tree" by Patricia Cazorla
In case you don't hear the "Bodhi Tree," there is a sign

I had luck with the stationary projects on Wednesday. I found Patricia Cazorla‘s “Bodhi Tree,” which has a sound installation in its branches that projects an OM sound “at random intervals, in an attempt to bring peace, awareness and an opportunity for introspection to New York City pedestrians.”

I wasn’t able to catch it in a meditative state, so I’m not sure if any pedestrians are tempted for a tranquil moment, but it did make me study for a time what is probably the prettiest tree on 14th Street. Why has Mary Ivy Martin not given it some love?

"Pilgrimage" by Laure LeBreton

Right across from the “Bodhi Tree” in the window of the 14th Street Framing Gallery is “Pilgrimage” by Laurie LeBreton, which has 310 paper figures arranged somewhat ominously. The project was inspired by a place in Laos where ancient pilgrims left thousands of statues of Buddha. In this case, LeBreton has left a mob of faceless silhouettes as an offering to the busy crowds of 14th Street. I appreciated the easy-to-find art from a writing standpoint, but felt that having an installation in the window of a gallery didn’t have the same spontaneity as the other Art in Odd Places pieces.

"Prescribed Procedure for the Obsessive_Compulsive" by Felix Morelo

Also easy to find, but much more ephemeral, was Felix Morelo‘s “Prescribed Procedure for the Obsessive_Compulsive.” The artist is drawing a path of chalk faces down 14th Street, with his ultimate goal being a trail from Tenth Avenue to Avenue C. I’d seen the faces in Union Square before, but was never really sure what they were about. Morelo states that the faces are partly “to make the public aware of how an obsessive-compulsive behavior can be a prescribed procedure,” as well as the quick passing of time. I was left thinking the artist must have the sturdiest back in the world to bend down to scrawl a face every 12 inches on the sidewalk. Of all the pieces I’ve seen, it’s the closest to an actual pilgrimage, bringing the ritual of repetition in with what I assume is a fair amount of sacrificial pain.

"Reflection" by Leo Selvaggio

Leo Selvaggio has a helpful project called “Reflection,” where he is attaching mirrors to scaffolding. Although the piece is about vanity, I thought it was a nice public service, an improvement over the half glances people give to windows to see how disheveled they’ve become between their apartment and the subway to the street. Oh wait, I guess that constant need for self-realization in reflected surfaces is the point.

There are many more Art in Odd Places rituals taking place throughout the week and into the weekend, and I’m planning to continue my one-person procession to chance upon art. Although whoever runs the @ArtinOddPlaces twitter has been doing a great job this week in chronicling what’s happening, so you don’t have to go in on faith alone.

Art in Odd Places continues through October 10 on 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River.

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