There’s a festival in Manhattan along 14th Street every year called Art in Odd Places. AiOP.
It’s been going for 10 years, and this years incarnation was subtitled FREE.
‘Presenting Visual and Performance Art in Odd and Unusual Places’, it says. And does.
I know about it because Katya Grokhovsky had a performance piece in it called ‘Slow Dance’. It’s a work she’s done in various places and for some years, and it morphs a bit each time.
This time it included a little band of odd people, like, say, me!
This is at Campos Plaza, 14th Street between Avenues A & B (so in Alphabet City!)
It was a bit of a festival hub.
And included this bride, who took about 2 hours to walk down her aisle (almost entirely unnoticed), and then on through the middle of the festival (very noticed).
These big headed people were all from a University somewhere else in America, and had travelled here to be in the festival. The woman inside this one (she’d made her own head) was doing a double engineering/fine art sculpture degree. She loved them equally, she said, and was going to try to keep them travelling along together all her life. The mother of the little boy was part of the festival too, and had something to do with this statue that wandered along 14th Street all weekend. He’s saying, I think, (though he spoke German, so I can’t be entirely sure) ‘you know you’re dancing partner has a very big head, right?’.
There was a Dutch couple, who offered Free Help. I didn’t meet her, but I did him. He was a very softly spoken, interested guy, who listened closely to everything I, and, I expect, anyone, said to him.
I have their brochure (although I didn’t book them) and it reads;
In an attempt to raise the social image of The Netherlands, we social service artists, Marieke Warmelink and Domenique Himmelsbach de Vriers provide free help to all citizens of New York, during the Festival Art in Odd Places (AiOP).
We are good at; brainstorming, solving problems, renovating houses, gardening, Turkish coffee, reading, portrait painting of people, portrait painting of pets, vegetarian and vegan cooking for individual or group, designing posters, video editing, thinking of solutions, taking initiative, organising, repairing bicycles, screen printing, glass cutting, welding, photography, working with a sewing machine, being socially engaged, teaching, snowboarding, translating texts from English to Dutch and Dutch to English, teaching basic computer skills, welcoming guests, looking after your shop, and playing New Wave at your next party.
One of my fellow dancers had booked them for the next Tuesday morning, when apparently they would come to her house, and help with a sort-out of the room her flat mate had left in a mess a while ago. I haven’t heard.
There was a vending machine that travelled along 14th Street, giving out compliments. I took one.
Well! Good news.
Some Noo Yoikers took to the proposition of a slow dance beautifully, others as though it was dangerous. Tourists were just the same, and I suspect it might have had more to do with how many people were in their party than their Nationality, gender, age, whatever else; but these things are very hard to pick, or tell. And as if there’ll be a pattern anyway…
Some responded with well practiced if not entirely appropriate replies, like, ‘I’m sorry, maybe next time’. Some with stuttered variations of ‘I’ve just got lunch to have here, there, I mean, I can’t, no, I would like to, really, but no, no’. Some avoided eye contact, or even street-side contact determinedely. Some put their head down, looked uncomfortable, and walked on purposefully.
Some took pictures, and then got on with other things.
There were lulls, when no-one in our group was dancing at all, and that made it harder for people to stop. It was a strange place to be – standing on a street corner in New York whilst the public walked past, interrupting them from time to time to ask them if they’d like to slow dance for a minute. And them not.
At one stage here in Union Square a young woman asked if I would dance with her baby. I did. It was marvellous and the baby, perhaps one, looked back at me with much focus and wonder whilst we rocked and rotated for a while. Her mother watched. She didn’t take any photos, she wasn’t in any hurry to do anything else, she just watched. One of the other slow dancers I was with asked if she could have a turn, which she did, then the mother and baby went back to the seat and pusher and things they had set up in the square, and continued their afternoon there, in the sun.
Another guy taught me to Salsa. At length, with lots of counting out loud, and until I got it right. He was an NYU student, doing neuroscience, and said he spent much too much time in his dorm and classrooms, and really should come out like this more. It’s Noo Yoik for godsake. He went on to teach various others to Salsa too, even though they already knew how.
There was a Festival Party on the Saturday night, for all the odd bods. It was on 14th Street, upstairs at The Alchemical (theatre and creative studio rentals).
That’s the entrance on the right, next door to the very full hat shop. With proprietor.
It was a fabulous old building, with a child care centre on one level, a yoga centre, some unidentifiable businesses, and then this;
I found another Parsons student there, who told me she’s just got an exchange to go to New Zealand for a semester. Auckland. Gosh. She’s recently moved out of the dorms, after 2 years sharing a room with 2 or 4 others. Gosh.
I rode home in the dark, which was freaky. 14th Street is two way, as well as big. I can ride the wrong way up a one way street, as all Noo Yoikers do (and I’ve had a bike for, gee, two weeks now) but being on the right (that is correct, as well as right) side of the right (that is correct, as well as right – see, I’m getting confused just writing this…) lane, on a dark and Saturday night in New York was freaky.
But here I am, writing this, so clearly it all went well.
Big thanks to Katya Grokhovsky for being a Slow Dancer, and asking me to be one too.