Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urban Arts Interventions

The newest "guerrilla musical" by the New York-based group Improv Everywhere is called "Grocery Store Musical" (photo on left) was just recently shared with me and is very cool. It got me thinking about this whole new trend towards finding ways to insert art into our everyday lives, in ways that are designed to jolt us out of our complacency, our routine. Many have seen the Belgian train station choreographed dance, which has been seen THIRTEEN MILLION times. A special favorite of mine is a flash mob dance routine that appeared in an episode of Weeds (featuring a great song by Michale Franti and Spearhead!). Check it out here. And in Philly a flash mob dance was organized on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. (With apologies to the organizers, not in the same league as the best of this sort of work - keep trying!)

There is a group called "Urban Prankster" that has a web site and documents these sort of flash mob projects all around the world, but they go far beyond choreographed dance and/or singing routines. One project placed a huge Claes Oldenberg-like Fork sculpture literally at a "fork in the road." How far apart are these projects from the long tradition of public art and mural-making? Don't Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work also fit into this tradition? Recently in Philadelphia two giant totemic "Heads" by Jun Kaneko were installed in the City Hall courtyard. They arrived earlier than expected, and therefore were installed with no advance warning or press, or even signage explaining them at the beginning - in many ways that was part of their delight. Not intended to be in this tradition of guerrilla art, but they were mysterious, enigmatic, and jolted people a bit as they walked through the courtyard. I think the difference between this new trend and the traditional concept of public art is that it usually temporary and ephemeral, unplanned and unpublicized; it is also as much about the performing arts as visual art. Also, humor and joy also seem to be much more prevalent. The work usually wants to make us smile.

It does seem like we are at a moment in history when these projects are blossoming and particularly resonating with people. Perhaps it is our increasingly alienated and homogenized society, and these "interventions" especially surprise and delight us. Perhaps it is that many people have grown jaded with getting their cultural experience in traditional museum and theatre settings and this is the way to reach them. Or perhaps it is the ARTISTS who are seeking new challenges and want their work to startle and amuse people in a way that seems harder to do in an institutional space. Finally, I think some of this work is being fueled by technology. You Tube, Twitter and even advances in miniaturized cameras make it so much easier to organize, execute and share these "arts interventions.

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