My weekday exploration of Art in Odd Places had required a careful eye for small acts of ritual, the theme of the 2011 edition of the annual art event that takes place along 14th Street and in Union Square. Two Saturdays ago the art was impossible to miss, even if it was still in unexpected places.
Right off the subway in Union Square, I was absorbed by the crowd surrounding Lawrence Graham-Brown, who was standing nakedly, both literally and spatially, right in front of the statue of George Washington. A man in a flowing robe was circling him, throwing water and white powder on his skin. The performance, called “Gimme Bak Ma Clothes!,” was inspired by Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white man who played the racist Jim Crow character in minstrel shows of the 1830s, and the throwing of the powder was meant to be an act of cleansing and blessing.
Mixed with the crowd around Graham-Brown was another act of cleansing. For Rob Andrews‘ “Union Square Clean,” people were standing under black shrouds, with instructions on how to wash their feet. Surprisingly, or at least to me, people were actually performing the ritual.
Continuing away from the center of Union Square, I found Nobutaka Aozaki drawing free portraits of people on shopping bags for his “Smily Bag Project.” The nature of his medium made all of his portraits lovingly simplistic, but I like how he was seriously engaging with his subjects as much as the portrait artists in Times Square who inspired him.
Feathers were drifting down onto the sidewalk and I looked up to see Bindi Cole dropping them from the top of a building. Her piece, “The Shelter Under the Shadow of His Wings,” was the only project I encountered in Art in Odd Places that seemed to lack any sort of irony when interpreting the ceremonies of religion. Each feather has a quote from the Bible, meant to be reminders of the voice of God lost in the shrill noise of the city. She wrote in her artist statement: “God is speaking to you. He has been all along. In a quiet still voice like the fall of a feather, he calls to you.” I’m not a religious person, but I still found it a touching pause to pick up a feather and read the words “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” while the Saturday sidewalk crowd moved by.
There was another moment of removal from urban reality down the street, where I started to see signs for a lost bindle stick with a number to call. Sure enough, I noticed the sticks all around, leaning against walls or subway entrances or even thrust in a trash can. The project by Ryan Singer and Jenny Santos, called “Stray, Get Found,” was intended to send participants on a “hero’s journey” inspired by Joseph Campbell. However, I tried to call the number and didn’t get an answer, so I went ahead and opened one of the sticks and found an apple and a note telling me to start my journey. I wasn’t sure if there was a next step or this was where the audience was to undertake their own imaginative adventure, so I repackaged the note and continued on the art journey I was already on.
I took a break in Hudson River Park, where I saw Doreen Kennedy‘s “Flower Bed.” The artist was off-duty, so there were only a few of the hundreds of flower photographs that were in the grass during performance hours. Even empty, it was still a charming little installation, as it had attracted a gathering of small birds who were eagerly digging at something in the soil.
Back on 14th Street by the entrance to the High Line, I saw some work by Konstantin Dimopoulos, part of his “The Tattooed Tailor” project. The elegant lace street art was definitely an improvement over the blue tape slashed over the empty storefront windows. I also like the idea of a graffiti artist being a gentleman set on bringing fine tailoring to the streets.
Further down the street, I looked across and saw Sherry Aliberti‘s “Cocoon” people cavorting jerkily along the sidewalk. According to her statement, the “cocoons” were journeying across 14th Street to gather at the Hudson River Park for sunset, but I saw them in the middle of the afternoon. They must have been taking advantage of the sunny fall day to unnerve the weekend crowds.
On a street corner, a table was set up offering copies of Caitlin Webb‘s “of_sky,” an illustrated guide to clouds. Her interpretative drawings were each accompanied by poetic descriptions. For example, for stratocumulus: “the cloud of all clouds/saunter in couplets.”
I wish I had caught the performance component, but I did see the results of Lois Weaver and Lori E. Seid‘s “Commit an Act of Domestic Terrorism,” where laundry was hung to dry along the streets. The laundry was meant to reflect the ritual shared around the world, traditionally by women, of drying laundry in odd places.
As I was finally walking to the subway at the end of my Art in Odd Places journey, I noticed something odd. Not only was the L Train not running, it seemed to not be going to Brooklyn at all, but rather time travelling to Breuckelen. The alteration was part of Daniel Bejar‘s project “Get Lost!,” where he “restored” subway maps and directions to their historical names. The subtle transformation was the perfect last project for me to see, capturing quietly that artistic subversion to the urban landscape that Art in Odd Places does so well.
Art in Odd Places was October 1 to 10 on 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River.
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