Every day New Yorkers wander the gridded streets of the city, traveling to and around subway stations in the morning and under neon signs at night. The study of how a geographic environment like this affects us emotionally and behaviorally is called psychogeography.
Conflux, a free annual arts festival happening this weekend in New York, explores psychogeography through artworks that range from new media — using Twitter, for instance — to the low-tech of walking around the city. In over 20 panel discussions, plus events and performances, more than 30 artists, designers, urban planners, and “pranksters” from around the world will explores the role of transportation and how the experience of transit impacts our lives.
“I started Conflux in 2003 with David Mandl,” said Christina Ray, co-director of the festival and also the co-founder, along with David Kesting, of Soho art gallery Kesting/Ray. “Back in 2003 we imagined it as an event to look at psychogeography, share stories, and work together, and it’s grown from there. Every year it’s different, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
This year’s festival is curated by Angela Washko, a New York–based independent curator and artist who has been involved in past events at Kesting/Ray, Spattered Columns in Soho, and Flux Factory in Queens. “I really handed it off to her for curating the event,” said Ray.
“I started off going through past Conflux festivals,” said Washko, explaining her process. “I started really digging through the archives and started to find a theme in the archives. I said to myself, ‘All right, let’s figure out where I can work from.’ I was surprised to find a lot of stuff there dealing with public transportation modes, how people move from point A to point B. I went through the past twenty years on what people have been doing — what strange things are people doing to get from point A to point B? I went through about 100 [past] projects.”
Some of the artists whose work will be featured include Daniel Bejar (not to be confused with the musician of the same name), Anders Bojen and Kristoffer Ørum from Copenhagen, Yoni Brook, and Jason Eppink, who represents one of the “pranksters” — or as Angela described his actions, “lighthearted pranks in public space.” Eppink’s past projects have included hanging a sign that read “Spoiler Alert” under the MTA’s LED subway arrival displays and building an outdoor mini-bridge over a leaky pipe, the “Astoria Leaky Scum River,” on 33rd street, beneath the Hell Gate Bridge. “Jason responds very quickly to issues in public space — direct action basically,” said Washko.
All of the talks and a majority of the art projects will take place in New York University’s Steinhardt School Barney Building Gallery; however, several off-site projects will also be happening concurrently with the festival. Most of the art projects are experimental in approach, with formats including video and art installations, interactive performances, and pranks.
Washko said she chose these artists based on the needs of the festival. “It comes down to showing things that best fit the exhibition,” she said. “I think curating duties become relatable in my own art at establishing a connection that’s maybe not obvious. I applied that to my community.
“I’m interested in mobilizing people in these communities,” she added, “showing off artwork that’s challenging. It’s done and it’s gone — they’re gestures and interventions. It’s not a painting on a wall.”
Conflux Festival runs October 20–21 in the Barney Building Gallery of NYU’s Steinhardt School (34 Stuyvesant Street, East Village, Manhattan). Event details and times can be found on the website.