Tour de chance
Oct 6th 2010, 10:09 by E.B. | NEW YORK
lead photo: Kate Glicksberg
Read the article on The Economist's site
VISITING a city can feel like an adventure. Tourists often enjoy a heightened awareness of sights and smells, sounds and people. But for residents, much of this becomes routine—dulled by time, muted by circumstance. We are often blind to what we see everyday.
This, at least, is the guiding principle of Elastic City, a new company that offers a series of conceptual walks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and occasionally London. Founded by Todd Shalom, a Brooklyn-based poet and “sound artist”, these walks encourage participants to consider the city in a different way—by listening to the noises it makes, exploring the materials it’s made from and discovering its unexpected pockets of beauty. The aim is to feel like a traveller. Or, Mr Shalom explains, to “take poetry off the page”.
What this means in practice has varied from walk to walk over the course of Elastic City’s inaugural season, which began in May and concludes on October 17th. For a walk called “Brighton Zaum”, Mr Shalom led a group on an acoustic tour of a remote, Russian neighbourhood. City residents are often besieged by noise, he explained, yet the sounds we make or perceive are often subject to choice. He asked participants to walk silently and listen intently, to notice the sounds of the city as its own poetry. The quiet was an unexpected reprieve, coaxing into high relief the sigh of buses, the ripple-rattle of plastic bags and the occasional squeal of a train. The smell of smoked fish wafted importantly (listening closely intensified other senses). The walk ended with writing a poem in the sand of Brighton Beach as the sun set. The doggerel itself was silly, but the earned intimacy of the group felt startlingly sincere.
Mr Shalom has recruited experts and artists in other fields to create their own walks. For an excursion called “Homesickness”, for example, an Israel-born urban designer and “environmental psychologist” led a small group through Chinatown and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The idea was to consider notions of displacement in an area associated with generations of immigrants. The tour began in Columbus Park on a Sunday, when amateur Chinese opera singers perform in the open air. One participant from Malaysia shared that this is where he comes to treat his own pangs of homesickness. “These songs are all about suffering. Like my aunts boasting about their suffering over tea,” he observed. Others on the tour never knew the park existed.
Mr Shalom describes these walks as “performative”, yet suggests they are a genre unto themselves. He has a point. These experiences are rare for being educational, interactive and personal. The artists often encourage moments of introspection and even vulnerability among participants, who may be asked to walk with eyes closed, make the sound of an inanimate object or trace the wall of a building with one’s hands. That such behaviour sounds regressive may be part of its appeal. With the right motivation, it can be satisfying to flout conventional codes of behaviour out in the open.
Together with Juan Betancurth, a Colombian-born artist, Mr Shalom is putting the final touches on “Lucky Walk”, the last tour of the season, which will debut on October 9th as part of New York’s Art in Odd Places festival. The walk, which considers the power of rituals and superstitions, includes moments of walking backwards, making wishes and buying lottery tickets. Participants meet at the Manhattan intersection of 13th Street and 7th Avenue, naturally.
The concept of luck—and specifically good luck—seems apt for Mr Shalom, whose Elastic City has enjoyed enough success for him to be making plans for the next season.
Juan Betancurth, who is leading the Lucky Walk for Elastic City with Todd Shalom, has created a series of works entitled "How to Become a Saint Without Dying While You Try". These series include ritualistic performances, objects and installations that explore Juan's personal relationship to "pain, faith and pleasure" through experiences from his past.
From Juan's website:
"For a long time, I've been fascinated with the lives of Catholic saints, and the extremes they will go to, in order to achieve a mystical experience. The saints understood their bodies as simple flesh, that needs to be mortified to cleanse itself from the desires of the body. In their fanatic search for perfection I found an intriguing relationship between faith, pain and pleasure, three elements I've come to see as recurrent themes throughout my life, while creating this body of work. I began to look back at practices of mortification throughout the history of the Catholic religion, where I found powerful and beautiful tools, used by believers, to inflict pain upon themselves. Through these objects, I became interested in the person behind them, and realized that inside the mind of a saint, is someone who keeps a sadomasochistic relationship with god, who loves, punishes and rewards.
Pain becomes a doorway, feeding the compulsion to relieve the soul from desires of the flesh, to reach the spiritual ecstasy of touching the holy body, to reach god, and have an erotic encounter with him. I read stories of nuns spending nights hanging from their hair to receive spiritual visions; of a village drunk who became a saint by pledging to wear weights under his clothes for the rest of his life in exchange for being healed; a mystic nun who wrote erotic poems to god as she flagellated herself in front of his image; of some who endured long periods of fasting and others who subjected themselves to public humiliation. The more that I know about these people, the more fascinated I become.
Observing the popularity of tortured lives of mystics, I began to draw a connection to the society of drama and spectacle that we are immersed in, where suffering sells, and brings ratings up. I find it interesting that common heroes are still made from those who have suffered in the public eye, bringing me to a sarcastic point of view on our society, myself included, while I use my own story as the subject of my art."
You can send an email here to be notified of Juan's future performances.
photo: Malo de la Tullaye
We were initially given Labor Day weekend for our September date at the Flea, but because of the long weekend and lots of people out of town, we pushed it back a week. to 9/11. This added a whole other layer to our work:
How do we raise awareness about conceptual art walks in a flea market while acknowledging the September 11th attacks?
What a ridiculous sentence.
We decided to create a construction zone where the public can build their own monuments. They'd tell us which shapes they want to use and we'd build it. Then, we'd photograph them with their monuments and place the photos on our blog. Given this was our last time at the Flea, we decided to use detritus from our past Flea installations as material to create the structures.
It was an incredible afternoon. Lots of families showed up to participate. See the slideshow below!
Very special thanks to resident Flea artists Riley Hooker and Juan Betancurth, Flea assistant Alex and our new interns Ariel Rivera and Zachary Scholl.
What a day. Elastic City turned heads this past Saturday at Brooklyn Flea with our Peep Show. It was free to enter and visitors emerged from the hot black tent forever changed. Conceived by: Juan Betancurth, Riley Hooker and Todd Shalom. Special thanks to Riley Hooker and Juan Betancurth for making the damn thing, and to Paige Fredlund for luring in wary shoppers. See below for video. It's pretty safe for work.
- elasticcity: Congrats to Aki Sasamoto & all the other '17 Foundation for Contemporary Arts awards recipients! #akisasamoto #foundationforcontemporaryarts
- elasticcity: Congrats to Vadis Turner and all the other Joan Mitchell Foundation award recipients! https://t.co/coQxuUPDw3
- elasticcity: @Diaquiri @ILhumanities thanks so much diana!! <3
- elasticcity: RT @Diaquiri: Just completed a fun workshop week with Todd Shalom @elasticcity thanks to @ILhumanities #electivestudies series. https://t.…