The 2015 edition of Art in Odd Places, RECALL, celebrates the festival’s odd-numbered milestone anniversary—11—with a survey of its first ten years. RECALL curators Sara Reisman and Kendal Henry consulted with the festival’s past curators to establish an understanding of Art in Odd Places’ history along 14th Street in Manhattan. Forty-seven past artists were invited—some deciding to reprise their past artworks while others opting to present new projects—as a snapshot of the more than 500 artists who have participated in the past ten years in New York City. In the process of bringing artists back to 14th Street, the artists’ installations, interventions, and performances reveal how the east to west swath of 14th Street has been transformed. That the festival is a cross-section of the city gives viewers a sense that while New York City often looks like a new, transformed city, in certain places it feels like little has changed, and the varied character of this two-mile stretch—in a continual state of flux—retains the qualities that have long defined New York City: its contradictions in wealth and culture from low to high and middling, and the awkward and beautiful intersections of planned public space with provisional architectures and improvisational interventions into the public realm.
The forty-seven odd artworks along 14th Street take into account a wide array of concerns that affect our lives in the city through artistic acts of generosity. Staged at the artists’ own risk, the artworks featured in Art in Odd Places take the form of public interventions, questioning the limits of how public space is used, regulated, and occupied. Mostly ephemeral in nature, the artists’ projects are preoccupied with the city’s subconscious, touching on issues of commercialism, gentrification, surveillance, economic disparities, accessibility of public space vis a vis disability, commemoration of both disappearing cultures and the lives of specific individuals. Not all news is bad news. Many projects celebrate the neighborhood’s past, and generate ideas about how we can actively engage in caring for the city’s environment and cultural ecology, how to participate in its future development, and how to appreciate the diversity of the culture that surrounds 14th Street and the many communities that converge here. Here we sit at the crossroads of Greenwich Village, Alphabet City, the East Village, Chelsea, the Flatiron District, Lower Midtown, and Gramercy Park, and the Meatpacking District.
Questioning what makes a place odd, Monika Goetz’s Coordinates functions like cross-hairs of a GPS system, honing in on an unremarkable location, marking it with a plaque listing its global position. Part of the oddness of 14th Street is the blurriness between art and commerce. Remember the first times you arrived in the city, or, if you were born here, the first time you recall crossing 14th Street. If you looked closely, you might have observed strange moments in which art and life blended together, especially in the context of the marketplace, both the infamous greenmarket of Union Square, and the intense commercial energy of the storefronts on the north and south sides of the street. Even today, in the midst of Union Square immense development, you still can encounter Hari Krishnas sitting together and singing, an artist who makes, arranges, and rearranges fake pigeons, and an artist who draws mandalas in chalk. Westward, the art market keeps accelerating, raising questions about what distinguishes art in a gallery from goods displayed in the window of a chain store. Hank Willis Thomas’ printed installation Beauties of the Week is a visual index of Jet magazine’s weekly pinup girls since 1953, blurring the boundary between the aesthetics of commercial print publications and those of visual art. Taking issue with advertising signage, Liz Linden’s reprinted advertisements along the street reflect on how readily we accept these constant intrusions into the public realm. Using disposable plastic bags, Nobutaka Aozaki brings back the portraits that he has drawn onto the ubiquitous smiley faces printed onto ephemeral yet everlasting bags that drift sideways and upwards into the trees, the city’s natural landscape.
Several artists in RECALL provide moments of pause to reflect on commemoration and its very nature. Tomashi Jackson’s three portraits of women who died in the face of encounters with the police are drawn onto storefront windows. LuLu LoLo’s Joan of Arc of 14th Street interrogates the lack of monuments that commemorate female historical figures. As Joan of Arc, she asks passersby where the monuments to women are, surveying them as to which women they think should be the subject of memorials in the city. Michael Paul Britto’s The Brown Man Experience: In Our Own Words seeks to give a positive voice to men of color as well as empower them to both confront and shift constructed racial perceptions.
Working with the neighborhood’s changing architecture, towards the east side, the band Jantar reprocesses sound from the film “Taxi Driver,” broadcasting it over a construction site at 520 East 14th Street, briefly capturing the historic sonic grit of the neighborhood. Isidro Blasco’s Not Really There is comprised of a series of architectural interventions that extend architectural details of the buildings along 14th Street, reflecting on the ever-changing and distorting nature of the city’s panorama.
Carrie Dashow and Skowmon Hastanan work within the Union Square Greenmarket to promote ideas about restoration and growth. Dashow, performing as Yesiree the Public Notary presents Mutual Life Assistance, conducting one-on-one Oaths of Growth with the public, urging them to take under their care – their own and the earth’s – as witnessed by the state of New York. Skowmon Hastanan’s Orchid Clinic provides free consultations on orchid care alongside greenmarket vendors.
Pedro Lasch’s War on 14th Street is a ten-year timeline that maps out important moments in global politics, designating one year per avenue. Lasch’s timeline will be drawn in chalk along the sidewalks, recalling a parallel historical record of the last decade, while Jordan Eagles’s Blood Illumination environments and projections reconsider a longer, more internalized struggle, making visible the health crisis associated with AIDS, linking diverse communities and generations of the neighborhood. Carolyn Mayorga’s Our Lady of Fourteenth Street will conjure the ghosts of the neighborhood’s past.
Touching on the senses, projects like Irvin Morazon’s performance with a seeing eye dog test how accommodating and accessible 14th Street and the city really are. LudiCity captures the relationship between sound and notions of community, privacy, and dialogue that comprise 14th Street’s past with six listening posts. Laura Napier will be stationed up above Union Square East as she choreographs This area will be photographed, acting as a human surveillance camera.
From this meta perspective, the mutuality of economic growth and urban planning become increasingly visible. The Illuminator Art Collective’s Illuminating Student Debt reflects on the economic policies of academic institutions like those that now own much of the neighborhood’s real estate. Alicia Grullón’s The Disappearance of Other commemorates the resulting exclusionary energies that have emerged in this context. As if in response to these critical perspectives, Matej Vakula Manuals for Public Space simultaneously solicits public input and provides guidance for reclaiming public space on the local level.
Dennis Redmoon Darkeem and Yoko Inoue offer small-scale but concrete opportunities for economic exchange on a much more intimate level. Darkeem’s Good Trade reenacts Native American swap meet customs in the intensely commercialized district of Union Square, while Inoue will offer free subway rides using her unlimited Metrocard, swiping riders in every 18 minutes. Daniel Bejar’s Get Lost! project gives NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subway maps a retro makeover, restoring the signs, maps, and names of places to what they may have geographically looked and sounded like prior to colonial intervention in 1609, recalling an early experience of what may have been, way back when.
Following the Art in Odd Places festival on 14th Street, The Lodge Gallery will host an exhibition from October 14-28, organized by Caitlin Crews, Claire Demere, and Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi with Art in Odd Places curators Kendal Henry and Sara Reisman. The exhibition will feature a selection of artworks by artists participating in RECALL, and will be accompanied by a publicly accessible archive with current and past artists’ documentation. This archive will continue past the exhibition as an ongoing repository for Art in Odd Places’ history.
-Sara Reisman & Kendal Henry, co-curators, AiOP 2015: RECALL