By Sabina Mollot
Art in Odd Places, a decade-old arts festival that’s taken place along the length of 14th Street since 2008, ran this year from October 7-11, featuring dozens of performances and installations with the theme of “Recall.”
Due to the theme, the pieces were either highlights from previous years that were revived or expanded upon or inspired by the past.
As always, during the days AiOP is scheduled, finding a participating artist vs. one of the neighborhood’s more colorful characters isn’t always obvious, and on certain days when there are fewer participants, locating one can feel a bit like a scavenger hunt.
However, on Sunday, around a dozen artists could be found during an afternoon walk from Eighth Avenue to Avenue C that was guided by the festival’s curators, Sara Reisman and Kendal Harry.
If you missed it, read on for a recap:
The first stop at Eighth Avenue was “Faded Glory,” revived from festivals in 2005 and 2008. This year, its creator Terry Hardy had made a memorial canvas covered with plastic flowers that was dedicated to an unnamed black man being killed by police. The other side was blue and read “To protect and serve,” which Hardy described as a look at the “blue wall.”
At Seventh Avenue, Michael Britto asked men of color who walked by to participate in the “Brown Man Experience,” in which he profiled them. This was originally in AiOP in 2012. Participants were asked to write something about themselves on a white board to be held in front of them, similar to the type criminal suspects are made to hold after an arrest, before posing for a photo. So far, those who’d taken up the offer had written things like, “Would you trust me?”, “I’m not as mean as you think” and “My father is my hero.”
Farther east, in front of the Rags-A-Gogo vintage clothing store, was Carolina Mayorga a.k.a. Our Lady of 14th Street, who stood calmly on a dolly as smoke billowed out from around her. Our Lady was a revival of the character who also appeared in the 2011 AiOP and conducted many blessings. This time, Mayorga opted to keep the character mainly silent. After the last festival, when she saw photos people had taken, “I knew the presence of the character would be enough,” she explained.
At Seventh Avenue, there was “Umbrella Tumbleweed,” which Tim Thyzel, who teaches art at School of Visual Arts and at an elementary school, said he fashioned out of discarded, broken umbrellas left out in the rain. He’d gotten the idea from a student and eventually collected around 50 umbrellas for the piece. When asked if he sustained any injuries during its construction, he nodded. “A little bit,” he said.
East of Sixth Avenue was the domain of Lulu Lolo as a fully armored Joan of Arc. There, she asked of passersby, “Where are the women” in all of New York’s monuments? Since there are currently only five of women and 150 of men, the French saint encouraged people to name a woman they’d like to see honored with a monument.
At Fifth Avenue, John Craig Freeman used an iPad to show the crowd an app he’d created that offered an alternate version of the surrounding street, by adding in pedestrians who weren’t really there as well as things like floating fruit stands and mailboxes that existed but in other places.
Union Square Park was the chosen venue of three festival participants. (Just a day earlier, there were different artists, including “yarn bomb” artist Olek, who along with a group of women, including T&V Associate Editor Maria Rocha-Buschel, were crocheting aprons for Olek’s piece “Working Women.”)
On Sunday, the installation attracting the most attention was “Game: Hunt, Capture, Kill.” Park goers gawked as a white woman fake-whipped a black man who at times was covered by not much more than a loin cloth made from animal skulls as he held a sign that read, “Gimme bak mah clothes!” A man dressed as a priest would occasionally sprinkle puffs of powder near the pair. The performance by Lawrence Graham-Brown (a variation of which was seen in 2011), was aimed at “disempowering the spirit” of Thomas Rice, according to AiOP literature. The description went on to note that Rice was “the father of American minstrelsy theater who contrived to flatter contemporary belief in white supremacy and who was born in the Lower East Side of New York.”
Other nearby installations included the Embassy of Goodwill, revived from 2014, which was a booth offering people free help and “This Area will be Photographed,” in which artist Laura Napier examined government and corporate surveillance (Google in particular) by politely informing park goers they were being recorded by a camera above. This was originally explored in a 2009 installation.
Then there was “Draft” by Nicholas Fraser, thin strips of shiny materials that were draped from scaffoldings from Union Square to Ninth Avenue.
Along the entire route were small signs like the type hung from hotel doorknobs with messages like “It’s great to see you” and “Is it really you?” The signs, made by Linda Hesh, were first seen in 2010.
Between First Avenue and Avenue A was Alicia Grullone, who wore a mask made of newspapers as she sat at a table with a few items for sale, including a bag of beans, at exorbitant prices. How many customers she had wasn’t clear, since she declined to speak, but the location — next to a scaffolding on the south side of the street and in front of a not-yet-opened Domino’s pizzeria, didn’t appear to be helping to attract business. According to the project’s official bio, the piece explored “the measures a person must take to continue living in NYC or other major international cities.”
At the corner of Avenue A in front of the massive construction site that’s soon to be a residential development, spooky sounds played from a device perched atop a traffic light in a small bag. The creator of the sound effects was Chad Baird, who explained the project was about feeling the void of what had previously been at the site.
“I used to hang out at a bar here called Blarney Cove,” he said. Now, it’s “this big hole.”
The project, “Eight Spaces of Empty Place” was debuted in AiOP 2014.
Close to Avenue B was Edith Raw who moved silently under a quilt of colorful pieces made from plastic bags.
The artist farthest east, at Campos Plaza, was Jenny Polak, who sat at a table, requesting that the development’s residents take a moment to teach her some Spanish (and agree to be recorded doing it). Polak, who lives in London, said she ended up learning about local Puerto Rican culture as well as language.
One man she interviewed claimed to be a neighborhood kingpin, and a hot topic among residents was power relations within the Puerto Rican community, with second generation immigrants told by their elders that their Spanish is “from the gutter.” In an effort to help Polak be heard over a nearby man who was consistently yelling incoherently throughout the day, one resident had earlier insisted on teaching her how to respond by cursing in Spanish. Other conversations revolved around immigration, politics and Donald Trump. “People became very upset and didn’t want to say his name,” said Polak.