By Sabina Mollot
Art in Odd Places, the annual outdoor array of performance and visual art that takes over the length of 14th Street for several days, is back. This year, the festival is running from Thursday, October 12 to Sunday, October 15 with a reception on Friday, October 13 from 6-8 p.m., also outdoors, on 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
This is the festival’s 14th year and it’s now been on 14th Street for a decade with the location having been chosen because of its site as a crossroads to a few different neighborhoods.
In keeping with tradition, each year’s festival has a theme and this year’s is “sense,” which a press release explains is supposed to “welcome gestures that aim to awaken dormant perceptions.”
The festival’s 60-plus artists have chosen to interpret it in many different ways, according to one of AiOP’s three curators, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful.
“Ways that are sometimes literal, and in ways that are metaphorical,” he said.
The other two curators are Rocío Aranda-Alvarado from El Museo del Barrio and Jodi Waynberg from Artists Alliance Inc. The event’s founder is teaching artist Ed Woodham. Artists include new participants like sex activist and educator Annie Sprinkle, who with partner Elizabeth Stephens, will be handing out copies of an “eco-sexual” manifesto that encourages people to see the earth as a lover as opposed to mother. Copies will be available at a few stores along the street, including the Namaste bookshop.
As Estévez Raful explained it, “the whole model of the mother has been abused.” So the West Coast-based artists may encourage passersby to do some tree hugging and perhaps even some massaging of the ground.
The festival will also welcome back a number of repeat artists like performer Lulu Lolo as Mother Cabrini, an Italian-American nun who was eventually canonized as a saint. As Cabrini, Lolo will be blessing immigrants on the street. Lolo has previously performed as a fully armored Joan of Arc and the Gentleman of 14th Street, a Victorian-era inspired character who’d attempt to coax the eyes of passersby up from their smartphones with a tip of his hat.
What will be different this year is that all the artists participating — mostly performers as opposed to visual ones this time — were invited to perform by the curators. All the previous festivals had open calls.
What hasn’t changed is that over the years artists have sometimes encountered resistance from law enforcement, with some being told they weren’t allowed to perform or exhibit their works in the Union Square Park or getting shooed away from other spaces outside private properties. Jim Dessicino, a sculptor who’d created a monument of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, was given the boot from the park in 2014 for not having a permit to exhibit it, and the next year, a pair whose installation offering free help to park goers were incorrectly told by a cop they’d need to leave their spot in the park to another area because they weren’t in a “free speech zone.”
On this, Estévez Raful said the festival’s organizers tell artists not to bother asking for any kind of permission from the city to perform or exhibit because “it opens up a whole can of worms.” There are exceptions if an artist wants to work in some way with a private property or business, but otherwise, AiOP says there’s no point.
“Because it’s so bureaucratic,” said Estévez Raful. “It’s depressing how people have to get in trouble with police. The idea of the festival is that public spaces should be available to any of our citizens. They should be available to perform in as long as we don’t interfere with what’s around us.”
While it may not be possible to see everything the festival has to offer, here are a few highlights:
Antonia Perez will be crocheting plastic flowers made out of plastic shopping bags, offering them to stores in exchange for single bags.
Chin Chih Yang will walk around as a human billboard, a commentary on society’s dependence on corporate entities.
A performance by Linda Montano, entitled “We Are Hungry All the Time,” will consist of Montano as a patient headed for nursing home care, being fed by two caretakers.
“It’s about how we’re hungry for things that are not necessarily food, we’re hungry for love,” said Estévez Raful.
A visual installation, by Enrique Figueredo, will show elaborate carvings fashioned out of green pieces of plywood that are typically used to hide storefronts that are in the midst of renovations.
Viewers will have the best odds of seeing something interesting by attending the reception or one of the festival’s two “critical mass” events, in which several artists will be at the same place at the time. On Saturday this will be from 2-4 p.m. between Sixth to Eighth Avenues and on Sunday this will be from 2-4 p.m. between First and Third Avenues.