‘Interactive’: an overused buzzword today, much like ‘engagement’ and its derived forms. Regardless, nothing replaces true community engagement like well-planned and executed public performance. This fall, one of the most interactive puppet performances worldwide has been traveling through New York, and thousands of people have participated.
Meeting thousands of people in the streets as a way to educate us about the plight of people around the world who have become refugees, the 12-foot-tall puppet of a young Syrian girl named Little Amal is fulfilling a mission begun many months ago on the border of Syria. According to the website of Handspring Puppet Company, the South African team which made her, Little Amal has already traveled 5,000 miles in the two years preceding her New York visit.
Little Amal has traveled “from the Syrian border through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France” through more than 70 towns, villages, and cities in search of her mother. She even met the Pope.
Now in New York, organizers say she isin search of her Uncle Samir. Planned events in all 5 of the boroughs mean that she is being welcomed by hundreds of artists, cultural organizations, community groups, schools, and colleges during a 55-event, 17-day traveling festival.
We share with you today images from photographer Chris Jordan, who attended one of the recent interactive performances in the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. We also spoke with transdisciplinary artist Heather Alexa Woodfield, who has created, produced, and performed pieces for various festivals and events, including at Chashama, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, FIGMENT NYC, the High Line, and The New Museum’s Ideas City. Woodfield tells us that The Little Amal project deeply touched her as an artist and performer, and she attended many of the performances.
Brooklyn Street Art:How did you hear about this project and what attracted you to it?
Heather Alexa Woodfield: I saw an article in the Guardian about The Walk with Amal in the fall of 2020. When I read that it was created by Good Chance Theatre, I knew I had to see it as their play The Jungle is one of the all-time great theatrical experiences. Since I went to Bread and Puppet every year as a child, I naturally have a deep love of radical puppetry and participatory public art.
Brooklyn Street Art:How many times have you walked with Amal? Were there many others interacting with her?
Heather Alexa Woodfield: I’ve walked with Amal 10 times so far. While I’ve mostly been too busy following the puppet to estimate the size of the crowd, it always seems to fill the space she occupies whether that is a vast space like Brooklyn Bridge Park or something more contained like galleries at the Natural History Museum.
Brooklyn Street Art:What do you feel that she symbolizes to you? Do you think people who first meet her on the street grasp the intention?
Heather Alexa Woodfield: Amal is a refugee who is being honored and celebrated all across the city. She helps us imagine a world where immigrants and refugees are welcomed and respected. I don’t think people who see her randomly immediately understand that she is a refugee. However, the experience seems to make people more willing to talk to strangers. Then conversations start, and the message gets passed. I’ve heard and participated in this exchange multiple times.
Brooklyn Street Art: How does art like this engage people in the public square?
Heather Alexa Woodfield: The public has a vital role to play in this artwork that is beyond spectator. Whether carrying a puppet bird or holding a flashlight to illuminate her face or simply walking with her, audience members become co-creators. This experience elicits a profound sense of collective joy that is reciprocal between the people who have gathered and the Amal team. I love seeing the puppeteers smiling just as much as the children around them.
New Yorkers will stand in line for many things; heavily frosted confections from the Cupcake Cafe, the new iPhone 17, or the chance to rub against a sweaty stranger on a light-crazed dance floor while paying 8 dollars for a plastic cup of ice. Since the superstorm Sandy hit last month, many of us have stood in line for food and blankets, and since the banking superstorm hit in ’09, many more have passed hours on the unemployment line. While we stand, sometimes we can feel time passing, the hands of the clock slowly waving past us incrementally as we fill out our forms or scroll through our electronic devices. Light artist Chris Jordan is illuminating and projecting our waiting plight in his new installation at the top of a 14 story tower of a former bank in Queens.
“I’ve been working overtime on this installation, which on the surface is incredibly simple,” he says of his piece entitled ‘Locost Queue’, which debuted in darkness in Long Island City last night.
The forms are photographed silhouettes of people from the local neighborhood, marching slowly across the four 11-foot diameter clock faces. Describing the low cost piece that will run for 3 months as part of a group exhibition curated and produced by No Longer Empty, Jordan reveals some of the back story effort and planning that went into making this glowing show above Queens.
“This has been anything but simple to accomplish, due to numerous constraints – including having to haul all the gear up three stories by rope, through a narrow hatch,” he says as he describes the grimy ladder and port-holed room. With an extremely limited budget, the resourceful designer had to forgo the powerful high cost projectors he is accustomed to working with and devise a decidedly old-fashioned approach to light projection. Ironically, as one stands in this dust-covered belfry on a chilly winter night it looks completely appropriate for a tower built in 1927, two years before last century’s bank-caused depression.
“Despite the challenges,” he says proudly as he surveys the shadows inside the drafty illuminated room, “it’s running, and looking pretty fantastic.”
Chris’ installation is part of the group exhibition titled “How Much Do I Owe You” curated and produced by No Longer Empty. To learn more details about this exhibition, the complete list of participating artists and about the programs and mission of No Longer Empty click here.
Viewing every evening from dusk to midnight through March 13, 2013.
This installation depicts a queue of people moving through the four clock faces at this historic clock tower in Queens Plaza. The speed correlates with the population increase of New York City.
Best viewing is from the park across the street from the building.
UPDATE: BSA exclusive new footage courtesy of video artist Chris Jordan plus new images from Jaime Leo, Eszter Klajman and Chris Jordan.
New York’s skies got majorly tagged today. And Mitt Romney got called out in front of 8 million people as a #GOPFail
New Yorkers who looked up from stoop sales, soccer games, and strolls across the Brooklyn Bridge saw graffiti artist and fine artist Saber flying five planes in formation across sunny Sunday skies with messages castigating the presidential candidate for his plans to kill funding for cornerstone arts programs like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Public Radio (NPR), the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
As the planes spelled out #DefendTheArts over Manhattan, Saber explained to BSA in a phone interview, “Basically I’m calling out Mitt and any other politicians who are cutting arts funding because they are actually cutting jobs that are an engine to our economy. Not to mention the effect these programs have on creativity and inspiration.” One dot-matrix style message said “Protect NPR PBS NEA from cuts” while another offered the Twitter hashtag simply entitled “#MittRomneyHatesArt”.
As one of a handful of high profile graffiti/street artists in the US who have taken the national stage with their social and political commentary, Saber has “gone big” before, but never on this scale and never over New York City in an hour and a half display that he estimated could be seen over a 20 mile radius. “NYC is the art center of the world,” Saber says, “It is quite a good feeling to be able to spread this public message.”
BSA Exclusive Raw footage by Video Artist Chris Jordan shows artist Saber spraying the sky over Manhattan (VIDEO)
The extremely wealthy Republican candidate Romney told Fortune last month that in addition to scrapping the new national health program that is offering medical care to millions, he intends to cut funding to major arts programs if he is elected, saying of the arts programs, “I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own.”
Rather than relying simply on the generosity of patronage, Saber thinks that the government and society at large benefit from investing in artists in an increasingly “creative economy” – many of whom he called out in the sky today, including artists, writers, poets, designers, actors.
Taking his campaign to social media with the #DefendTheArts hashtag this time, Saber very visibly entered the national fray during the healthcare reform debate of 2009, saying that the existing for-profit system cut out people like himself, uninsurable because of his epilepsy. Today grassroots activism that emanated from downtown NYC has expanded the conversation and he acknowledges those voices who have focused attention on Romney and the so-called 1%. “We’re making sure to fly directly over Zucotti Park with a big ‘Occupy Wall Street’ message, because that’s what New York is too.”
Amid the political messages skywritten by Saber are shout outs to friends and graffiti artists who have passed; a nod to the roll-call community memorial walls that graffiti and street artists have done in cities for decades. This new way of “getting up” also has Saber waxing poetic as he sees the effect his fresh tags have at 34,000 feet as they melt into the blue canvas over most of NYC. “It’s almost like I’m painting in the sky – it has a really beautiful effect when a fresh one lays over the one that is fading away.”
As the planes made long oval trips over Manhattan, the East River, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and back, the normally tough stuff graff guy couldn’t really mask his enthusiasm, “I’m really excited about it!”
Rafmögnuð Náttúra: The Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland
It’s not that light artist Chris Jordan didn’t find the sweeping supersonic jet-shaped façade of the church inspiring. He just wanted to make it visible again to the people in town.
Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran church in the center of Reykjavík, with it’s soaring steeple and outstretched wings it has been an architectural icon since it’s completion in 1986 and anyone first laying eyes on the largest Icelandic church is usually impressed by it’s command and design. And yet, somehow even pivotal architecture can disappear before our eyes due to familiarity and it may take a visionary talent like Jordan to bring it back to our attention with animation, mapping, color, and pattern.
From his home in New Yorks’ Chinatown, Jordan, who teaches interactive design at Baruch College and New York University, talks about his work in the same way that Street Art is often credited in the urban environment: art as activation. “Activating is about changing people’s perceptions of overlooked or invisible spaces. A building can become an archetype, invisible, like for a New Yorker, for example, the Statue of Liberty. You look at it, and it disappears into the thousands of times you’ve already seen it. So for me, this light project was so exciting because here’s this massive landmark church that this whole town can’t see anymore.. made completely fresh and new. To see that reflected back at me through the faces of viewers was exhilarating.”
That observation perhaps was the pinnacle of his Icelandic experience in February when he camped out in front of the church over four days in the back of a box truck with his collaborator Marcos Zotes, a handful of computers, three projectors, and a low budget. Together they created a series of site-specific video performances that brought to life Zotes’ idea for a project called Rafmögnuð Náttúra.
The two had met while Jordan was performing his 24 hour timelapse of Hurricane Irene inside an engineered cloud at New York’s Bring to Light Festival last October. Zotes asked if Jordan would like to collaborate on a project to illuminate the 150 foot wide façade of a church in for the Winter Lights Festival in Iceland. Since Jordan has over the last decade created installations appearing at MoMA, The New Museum, The Whitney, The Museum of Natural History, The Chelsea Museum, in Times Square, and many unusual places in between, he had a good idea what cool stuff he would like to do. With the free help of other artists, software designers, and even NASA, Jordan brought a mind-blowing façade to the church that Zotes had only imagined.
“We collaborated on how we could, with a very limited budget, create something spectacular for the festival,” explains Jordan. “We knew that the majority of the budget would be going for projectors so we called our friends up to help us with creating animation sequences that could be mapped to the facade, in triple-HD resolution.”
“We developed a workflow and a template for each animator to follow; then compiled the animations together into a final 15-minute composition. In addition, I contacted friends at NASA for solar imaging data, and created animations using graphic and solar elements. The dream was to have northern lights over the building with the accompanying solar data displayed. Although the solar and earth weather didn’t collaborate, the animations of the sun in a dark cold city on this Norse façade were very appropriate and powerful.”
Jordan’s work over the years has included explorations into memory, and elements of photography, film, interactivity, and projections. We talked with Jordan about traveling to Iceland, transparent ideas, the importance of community, and what a light artist has to go through to reactivate an icon.
Brooklyn Street Art:Can you talk about the trip to Iceland? Chris Jordan: We went to Iceland with just one day before the opening. The Icelandic people were incredibly accommodating, and set up three massive projectors inside a box truck, with a massive piece of glass mounted on it. The box truck became our projector-heated cabin in the center of Reykjavik for four days. Location is everything! It was a great setup. The projectors were aligned and from there I mapped the content using the software MadMapper by Garage Cube. Garage Cube are also friends of mine and they helped me troubleshoot the tech issues the day before. The opening event had the band For a Minor Reflection accompany us, right after the mayor of Reykjavik introduced the festival to the audience.
But the day before this we went through myriad technical issues. Many times I thought this was going to either look horrible, or crash altogether. There was no budget for a backup computer, or to test the entire setup beforehand. Luckily, Iceland has an early sunset, so we gleaned a couple crucial extra hours to configure everything. The mapping was completed literally seconds before the mayor spoke. It all went off smoothly and the people that braved the intense horizontal-downpour cheered.
Brooklyn Street Art:You managed to transform a landmark into a completely different light using your creativity. Doesn’t that feel pretty powerful? Chris Jordan: Yes. It was pretty fantastic we were able to do this on such a small budget. It absolutely required a community to make happen. When our main computer failed, the Icelandic underground came to the rescue. One person there offered graphics cards he’d had in a drawer. Another brought us snacks from a nearby cafe. That community effort is really what made this project powerful for me.
Brooklyn Street Art:You were given no budget whatsoever, aside from a plane ticket and 3 projectors. How do you plan for a live performance with the inevitable technical issues? Chris Jordan: Years and years of failure. I read an Edison quote the other day, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”. I’m also a huge proponent of transparency, modularity, and scale. These tenets allow me to see unique solutions to problems, and find compelling solutions. Light art is still maturing as a public medium, as last November’s Occupy Wall Street “Bat-signal” projections attest. It’s a wide-open field for creative expression.
Brooklyn Street Art:Without revealing your trade secrets, is it true you plan to introduce more community interaction into your future work? Chris Jordan: Always. There’s an axiom I live by: “There is no art without politics”. You either choose to engage it, or you choose political apathy. This ties in with ideas around real-time performance and feedback. I hate the word “rendering”, as it equates to “pouring concrete” on ideas that demand continuing dialog. “Trade secrets” imply hoarding of knowledge. I only want to work with transparent ideas and accessible technologies that ‘spotlight’ the individual’s role in society through creativity. I try to live an open-source life.
Brooklyn Street Art:What role does community play in this project and in your philosophy? Chris Jordan: I love interacting with communities and to give them the control to create dialogue. This fascinates me, and informs my work constantly. My next long-term outdoor installation is on Governor’s Island, where I’ll be engaging the broadest spectrum of people on the planet (New York) in playing and building, using buckets and stop motion photography. For me it’s all about the community. Without it, we are making monoliths to our egos.
1. Occupy Wall Street This Weekend (Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Repeat)
2. The London Police at Opera Gallery
3. “Fresh Kills” Anonymous Gallery Opens in Mexico City
4. “Groundbreak” behind CBGB’s in the Alley Tomorrow
5. “Paperboys” at Pandemic Saturday (BK)
6. POSE and KC Ortiz show “White Wash” at Known Gallery
7. Sixeart at N2 Galeria in Barcelona, Spain
8. “Dissidents” A group show at West Berlin Gallery
9. “SelfEst” at Kind of – Gallery.
10. Bask solo show “Box of Fun” at William Rupnik Gallery
11. VIDEO PREMIERE! TEEBS by Brock Brake in Chicago
12. JM Rizzi “Day Dreaming Under Streetlights” (VIDEO)
13. Nuria Mora”2 Estrellas” (VIDEO)
14. New from Snyder : “Carlsbad Toreador” (VIDEO)
Occupy Wall Street This Weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Repeat)
Yesterday was the two month mark for this nascent people’s movement and the signs on the Street are bigger and clearer than ever. One of our new favorites is the addition of projection art, which has a powerful effect on the facade of iconic architectural structures, or non-descript ones. Dedicated projection art on the street simply takes a graphic, a hand truck, a projector, and a car battery. It is also non-damaging to property. In these new days of unbridled creativity set free on the street, you can’t beat a good D.I.Y. idea. Look ma, no cans!
“Who Cares Wins” opens to the public today, minus the Dandy Warhols singing songs about dogs like they did last night at the opening. The large show solidifies TLP’s place in Manhattan and the technical tightness belies a deep belief in the power of the fun, friendship, graffiti, architecture, and the imagination. Arrive in a playful mood and you’ll dig it.
“Fresh Kills” Anonymous Gallery Opens in Mexico City
A downtown staple of inquisitive exploration, Anonymous Gallery is opening “Fresh Kills”, a group exhibition today in D.F., featuring their customary mixing of artists to create an ever more potent cocktail. The organizing principal for this show is the huge dump we have on Staten Island that will one day be a beautiful park for dogs to catch frisbees and teenagers to smoke pot in. NO LITTERING!
Artists include Richard Prince, Tom Sachs, Aaron Young, Agathe Snow, Hanna Liden,Swoon, Barry McGee, David Ellis, and Greg Lamarche.
For further information regarding this show click here.
“Groundbreak” behind CBGB’s in the Alley Tomorrow
Curated by Joyce Manalo of ArtForward & Keith Schweitzer of MaNY Project, this outdoor small group show will be waiting for you to come by tomorrow. Featured are Abe Lincoln Jr., Ellis Gallagher, and Jon Burgerman, who doodled the hell out of the sidewalk this week, bless him.
For further information regarding this show click here.
“Paperboys” at Pandemic Saturday (BK)
Okay, time to haul out to the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn Saturday night. With this show, you are at an epicenter for a solid new direction Street Art is going to. Wouldn’t want to be so bold to say “don’t miss it”, but…
Featured will be brand new work by ND’A, Labrona and Overunder.
“Most of my contributions are gouache pieces referencing some of my favorite paintings and places. I feel so fortunate for being able to travel and paint so much the last 2 years. It has really been a blessing! But now I’ve begun sourcing all those past images and street pieces for this new body of work where I can combine the architecture features, the figurative wheat pastes, and the paper bird phrases. It’s been a real reflective period, which I think is beneficial for people like me that are constantly churning out work (whether good or bad) so that I can now begin to see it with fresh eyes.” ~ Overunder
Also happening this weekend:
POSE and KC Ortiz show “White Wash” at Known Gallery in Los Angeles. Click here for more information.
Sixeart at N2 Galeria in Barcelona, Spain. Click here for more information.
“Dissidents” A group show at West Berlin Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Click here for more information.
“SelfEst” at Kind of – Gallery. A group art event. Sydney, Australia. Click here for more information.
Bask solo show “Box of Fun” at William Rupnik Gallery in Cleveland, OH. Click here for more information.
VIDEO PREMIERE! TEEBS by Brock Brake in Chicago
BSA Video debut of Photographer and BSA collaborator Brock Brake of artist Teebs who was recently in Chicago for his solo show at Pawn Works Gallery.
Brock Brake “Black Book”
JM Rizzi “Day Dreaming Under Streetlights” (VIDEO)
Still way off the beaten path, and captivatingly so, New York’s 2nd annual Nuit Blanche overcame difficult weather and logistical hurdles to blind a few thousand revelers with brilliance and interactivity in this waterfront industrial neighborhood facing Manhattan. This festival of ingenius light is inspired by those sharing it’s name in cities like Paris and Toronto, but the D.I.Y. ethos that permeated Brooklyn during the 2000s in neighborhoods like this keeps the corporate chill at bay.
Performance, poetry, projections; the description does no justice to the ingenuity of spectacular pieces like Chris Jordan’s timelapse of Hurricane Irene hitting Manhattan projected inside a cloud named Bob that is designed by Columbia architecture students. Only in person, on the street, and in the cold October air can you be suitably shocked by the sight of yourself crawling up a factory building with a hundred others going at different rates. “Asalto”, by Daniel Canogar does just that; a public participation piece where you can crawl across a stage being recorded by a camera overhead and a few seconds later see yourself climbing to the top of this abandoned factory, progressive participants looping and layering as the evening advances.
The Manhattan art crowd may have been lured by the new ferry service and the promise of the occasional marquee name (Serra, Wodiczko), but it’s the unposing open quality of this curated installation of light that still feels promisingly ad hoc. While you’re discovering and rooting for it to succeed, you hope it retains the radiant wit as it grows. Glows
1. Fountain LA This Weekend
2. NUART 2011 – Stavanger, Norway
3. “Bring to Light” in Greenpoint Brooklyn for the 2nd Year – Saturday Night!
3. “Rituals” on 14th Street, Art in Odd Places
4. Pantheon Projects at THE NEW YORK ART BOOK FAIR AT MoMA PS1
5. Art Platform Los Angeles
6. RETNA at Art Platform (LA)
7. Brian Adam Douglas at Art Platform (LA)
Fountain LA This Weekend
New York’s own specially warped outsiders are in LA this weekend, and BSA is happy to sport support for whatever madness they can stir up, including the Murder Lounge, which Dave Ill says will be in full effect. (Murder- .slang. To defeat decisively). When you are milling around the big LA shows this weekend make sure you stop by Fountain and say hello to Señor Kesting and check out the Street Art contingent doing their thing on the Left Coast ya’ll.
NUART 2011 has arrived and the streets and buildings of Stavanger are a heating up with all the artists getting up and doing what they know what to do best: Paint. Brooklyn’s own Dan Witz already hit the streets with his “King Baby” street installations on faux city street signage. Tonight (Friday) their is a panel debate with artists, Carlo McCormick and Juxtapoz Magazine that we wouldn’t miss.
Artists include DAN WITZ (US), DAVID CHOE & DVS1 (US), VHILS (PO), HERBERT BAGLIONE (BR), DOLK (NO), LUCY McCLAUCHLAN (UK), HERAKUT (DE), TELLAS (IT), ESCIF (ES), HYURO (ES), PHLEGM (UK)
For a complete listing of events and schedules please visit the NUART site:
“Bring to Light” in Greenpoint Brooklyn for the 2nd Year – Saturday Night!
“All manner of projectors blasted on the walls with myriad images, forms, and shapes, some breathtakingly beautiful. Other artists created sculptures and installations that worked as light vessels and amorphous creatures while collaborative dancers entertained groupings of appreciative observers.” from BSA’s review on Huffington Post
OCTOBER 1ST, 2011, Greenpoint, Brooklyn New York. 6:00 pm to Midnight.
Bring to Light is a free nighttime public festival of art in New York City that takes place simultaneously with “nuit blanche” events in cities around the world. Inviting emerging and established artists to make site-specific installations of light, sound, performance and projection art, the event creates an immersive spectacle for thousands of visitors to re-imagine public space and civic life. Bring to Light will transform streets, parks and the industrial waterfront of Greenpoint, Brooklyn set against dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline.
Nuit Blanche (French for “white night” or “all-nighter”) is a global network of locally-organized nighttime contemporary art events. Originating in Paris in 2001, the nuit blanche concept now involves millions of people in cities around the world.
One performance we will NOT miss will be Chris Jordan and Josh Goldberg, who have serious chops in public projection work, presenting CHRONO GIANTS.
Art in Odd Places 2011: RITUAL features a wide variety of actions, participatory performances, theatrical presentations, public installations, and small and large-scale interventions all of which revolve around the concept of ritual.
This art book fair always rewards you – just walking around the floorplan of MoMA PS1 is a trip and the books are tripped out. This year we are in a new one – The Pantheon Catalog from Joyce Manalo and Daniel Feral;
“The street has always been the thumping beat that pumps the pulsing lifeblood through creative New York. Yes, there is a lot of action behind the walls in the offices and galleries and studios and stages and clubs and boardrooms, but everyone knows it is the kinetic electricity of life on the street that inspires New Yorkers to dig deeper and dream bigger and play hard.”
~ from the essay Street Art New York, The 2000s, Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo of Brooklyn Street Art.
If that is not enough to make you absolutely plow down crowds to get there, consider the real talents who are going to be there to SIGN YOUR COPY:
***Catalog Signing on Sunday, October 2nd, 3-3:45 PM featuring***
Join Pantheon Projects at The NY Art Book Fair
September 30-October 2, 2011, 11AM-7PM, at PS1/MoMA, Free Admission
Hours: Friday–Sunday, 11AM-7PM
THE NY ART BOOK FAIR
September 30–October 2, 2011
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
Long Island City, NY (map)
Art Platform Los Angeles
From their press release; Art Platform – Los Angeles will demonstrate the rich and vibrant cultural landscape of Southern California and underscore Los Angeles’ influential position within the contemporary art world. MMPI is one of the largest show producers in the world, including a growing portfolio of premium art shows. We have assured the continued development and enhancement of the Art Show division by bringing together some of the top minds in art fairs under one partnership”
For more information, location and a complete list of exhibitors please visit Art Platform at:
If you can’t wait to see the Retna spread as shot by David LaChapelle in October’s Vanity Fair you can check out these new pieces at Art Platform and see BSA’s photos from his New York show this spring.
A lady, perhaps in her late 60’s or early 70’s with small wire-rimmed glasses stood on the pavement grinning in front of our flickering video projection time-lapses of Street Artists putting up work. She only turned from the screen once to make sure that her posse was also watching. When the video ended, with shoulders pinch up toward her grey fluffy hair, she clapped her hands quietly in front of her smiling mouth, and went back to the sidewalk to talk to her friends about it. She asked them if they had seen it. They had. A bit of wonder for us, her excitement.
We like to think that all of the artists involved in the first ever Nuit Blanche festival in New York received a similar experience for all of their efforts. As artists, few things make us happier than when we get to see the faces of the public enjoying the art being presented.
In New York there aren’t many venues where both the artists and the public get to mingle and talk directly with each other in an open and unrestricted environment: No VIP rooms, no PR handlers, no spokespeople, no velvet ropes, admission tickets, no one looking down their nose. The organizers of “Bring to Light” made this possible for one glorious night in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Perhaps 10,000 art lovers got out of their homes to enjoy one evening of free enlightenment without restriction.
With a five-hour convulsing light carnival by 60 artists, many of whom are well known for avant garde innovation, “Bring to Light” brought to life this former maritime hub of North Brooklyn that once blustered with lumber yards and rope factories. Now a rusty hopscotch of weathered industrial architecture, burned out lots, and faded hopes, Greenpoint in recent years has bloomed with the lifeblood of artists overflowing from neighboring Williamsburg. Aided by a crisp autumn night and Greenpoint’s Open Studios weekend, where artists open their doors to the public, “Bring To Light” was suddenly pulsating with the feet of thousands of art fans. All manner of projectors blasted on the walls with myriad images, forms, and shapes, some breathtakingly beautiful. Other artists created sculptures and installations that worked as light vessels and amorphous creatures while collaborative dancers entertained groupings of appreciative observers.
The show’s organizer DoTank:Brooklyn, calls itself a public vessel for interdisciplinary exploration, and Nuit Blanche seemed like the perfect showcase for everything these (mostly) urban planners are about. More interested in taking action than talking about it, their collective sense of focused urgency is like a refreshing gale of cool October air. Since they actually know how to plan and work with local civic and citizen groups, they were able to pull off New York City’s very first Nuit Blanche event in less than 3 months, and on a shoestring budget.
While DoTank had the initial idea, the Nuit Blanche ball started rolling when festival producer Ethan Vogt got involved to steer the effort in late July. DoTank had experience organizing participator events in public space and Ethan brought his background in film production and a passion for creating cinematic experience outside of traditional venues.
DoTanker Ken Farmer, originally from Memphis, Tennessee usually is riding his bike around the city or working as a consultant at Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization. He likes to ride his bike around the city and scope out cheap places to eat, or “blue collar hollas”, as he calls them.
A Boston born New Yorker since ’02, Ethan Vogt is a filmmaker who makes documentaries for organizations, music videos with found footage, and has produced three feature films with Andrew Bujalski. Now developing a masters thesis about Media in Performance and Architecture at NYU, Vogt hopes to produce Nuit Blanch for at least the next couple years in New York.
Brooklyn Street Art spoke to both guys about the success of their first Nuit Blanche in New York.
Brooklyn Street Art: How do you feel about the event, now that you are a few days on the other side of it?
Ken Farmer: We could not be more excited about how things turned out. Great weather, great crowd, great support from the community and a great response from both people who attended as well as those who have seen post-event coverage.
Ethan Vogt: Yeah, we are all just thrilled with how it came together – I’ve heard nothing but positive things from artists, visitors, and Greenpoint residents. I would say it exceeded our expectations and we were just in awe of what we had “organized” and “produced.”
Brooklyn Street Art: How long has this event been in the planning?
Ken Farmer: The idea began in July and planning really began in August. We were on pins and needles until the last minute getting the permits approved due to apprehension about an event with no prior history in NYC. Luckily, some key leaders like Councilman Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz really believed in the event and helped us get over the hump.
Brooklyn Street Art: Would you call yourselves artists?
Ken Farmer: I’d say…artist and organizer…maybe that’s a curator?…of public spaces.
Ethan Vogt: Sure, I’d say I’m an artist and creative producer. I actually was going to do a projection project for the festival before I got too busy producing. You can see some of my projections and photography online. I feel like my art-making allows me to be a better producer, I often think about what I would want from a producer if I was the artist and then try to be that kind of producer.
Brooklyn Street Art: Who had the idea of launching New York’s first Nuit Blanche, and why did you think it was important to pursue and execute?
Ken Farmer: DoTanker Ted Ulrich organized a similar event in Atlanta and other team members had experienced Nuit Blanche events in other countries. We knew that it provided such a creative transformation of public spaces. Given our interest in short-term interventions to transform the way public space is experienced…we had to try.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about one of your favorite projections or performances from Saturday night?
Ken Farmer: We had some pretty well known light artists like Chris Jordan and Ryan Uzilevsky, but the thing that amazed me was the way the art, performers and crowd coalesced into a seamless experience. It wasn’t about individuals or feature pieces, it was about the transformed landscape that emerged collectively. This was our curatorial goal, but the reality far exceeded our expectations.
Ethan Vogt: So many of the pieces were amazing, it is hard to choose. I loved the percussion performance, “Scaffolding” by Tom Peyton with Terence Caulkins, Eddie Cooper, Lily Faden, Leo Kremer, and Mike Skinner, I also thought that the way that crowds were interacting with “A Small Explosion” by Kant Smith, “Light & Glass Dance” by Miho Ogai, “Oculus” by Nathaniel Lieb & Sarah Nelson Wright, and “Untitled (Drums, Lights) by Peter Esveld & Philippo Vanucci was remarkable and a very vibrant way of people connecting to artwork that I haven’t seen very many other places in my life.
Brooklyn Street Art: What role does public art play in the life of a neighborhood or a city?
Ken Farmer: It should be a manifestation of its surroundings showcasing the local identity. And it should compel us to appreciate our surroundings–aesthetically, whimsically, critically. But it is frustrating how often it falls short.
Ethan Vogt: I’m no expert on this but I think public art should encourage reflection, debate, and connection. New public spaces like the “High Line” in Chelsea are the kind of thing that I believe embodies this and I would love to someday be involved in producing a project like that.
Brooklyn Street Art: We’re always talking about the intersection between Street Art, Urban Art, Public Art, Performance, Projection Art – do you think that there is a growing interest among city dwellers in reclaiming public space for art?
Ethan Vogt: Yes, Yes, Yes! – I think this festival really struck a chord and that people looking for an authentic, non-consumer, artistic, participatory, and community experience.
Ken Farmer: I think there is a growing interest in authentic, and interactive public art. We are in a beautiful era of D.I.Y. culture. The big, corporate commissioned public art pieces in lifeless lower Manhattan plazas are old news. People want something more relatable and more dynamic. We are seeing a proliferation of low-cost, pop-up elements in public spaces. Some may see it as art, others as amenity, either way…its terrific.
Brooklyn Street Art: Were you surprised how difficult it could be to pull this off?
Ken Farmer: The difficulty lies in the need to do everything by the books. We intend to make this an annual tradition that gets better every year. So we dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s”, which was costly, fiscally as well as temporally, but essential to building community support.
Ethan Vogt: It was extremely difficult to get all the pieces together to make this work but the reward of the experience was well worth it and things will certainly be easier next year.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do you think most people who see the show have any idea the amount of work that goes into it?
Ethan Vogt: I’m not sure if they have a sense of the work but I don’t care, I’m just glad they came out and had a night to remember. Hopefully they might continue to support us next year.
Ken Farmer: Hopefully they don’t know how much work goes in. I think the biggest barometer of the event’s success was how calm it felt. It was amazing to have that big of a crowd, with that many artists and that much excitement, yet have things seem so orderly.
We are extremely appreciative of how the crowd received the event…Thank You New York!
Fundraiser, Print Show, New Gallery Opening in Brooklyn
Don’t miss the opening and fundraiser tonight of Brooklyn’s newest gallery, called 99%. The silent auction will feature new prints by Swoon (left) and Gaia (right) as well as Bast, Chris Mendoza, Cycle, Dennis McNett, Doze Green, Ellis G, Eric White, Esao Andrews, EZO, Ian Kuali’I, Imminent Disaster, Jeremiah Ketner, Jose Parla, Kenji Hirata, Lady Pink, Martha Cooper, Martin Wittfooth, Maya Hayuk, Mel Kadel, Morning Breath, Nathan Lee Pickett, Orlando Reyes, Rage Johnson, Ricky Powell, Rostarr, Ryan Humphrey, Skewville, Tara McPherson, Tono Radvany, Voodo Fe, Xiaoqing Ding, Yuri Shimojo
Happy World Cup!!!! Here is Tsatsulow,the Best Soccer Freestyler in the World
FIGMENT on Governors Island – Interactive Art for Everybody (Free Free Free)
The Figment Festival on Governor’s Island boasts so many live arts and activities for free this weekend that it is guaranteed to relax and exhaust you simultaneously. A number of street artists are going to be there performing live, as well as a number of interactive installations and performances to challenge and titillate.
Governors island continues to expand and grow, and FIGMENT this year is no exception. Check the ferry schedule (free). There are ferries from Brooklyn again this year. Visitors are encouraged to bring bikes and food.