Presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.

AiOP 2014 FREE Looking Back: The Work Intern “timebanks/14th”

Under the theme of FREE, Art in Odd Places (AiOP) celebrated their 10th year engaging with works that celebrated ideas of openness, autonomy, and independence. As we prepare for AiOP 2015: RECALL and our exciting 11th year, we’re taking time to look back at some of the works that embodied last year’s theme and see what the artists learned by producing their pieces, and how working on 14th Street impacted their practices.

Can you describe your contribution to AiOP: FREE?

project title

timebanks/14th

The Work Intern (Meredith Degyansky), AiOP 2014 FREE!

project description

My project, timebanks/14th, involved working with six different businesses on 14th street: a halal cart, a bodega, a hair salon, a stand at the greenmarket, a vintage store, and a tailor shop. Each shift was four hours long so I was hopping from one job to the next leaving me little down time during the course of the festival. In exchange for my labor, I received “monies” (a currency that I created based on time) that I could then use to buy goods and services at those businesses. Weeks after the project ended I used monies to buy yogurt/produce from the greenmarket, get a haircut from the salon, and buy a pack of gum from the bodega. I still have to cash in on a tailor job.

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Hair Salon, photo courtesy of the artist.

Working in public space, one is often forced to deal with the unexpected. What surprising turns did your work take during AiOP: FREE?

timebanks/14th began as a conceptual project about labor and wage. But after working my first shift of the festival at the bodega, it quickly became about something else. It turned into a project about the time you spend with people and the relationships that build over that time. When you analyze the day-to-day of jobs, most people actually have a fair amount of down time while “working”. Because I was slated to spend four hours at these specific jobs often times I was learning the life history of the owner or worker I was working with as we waited for customers to come in. I didn’t realize I would feel so connected to everyone and I think they were connected to me too. When I ended my shift with Rosa at the hair salon, she gave me a hug and said, “I’m really going to miss you.” The conversations I had with Joe, Rosa, Mustafa, Fariha, Jess, and Ed still vividly reappear in my head.

 

How has the experience of making work for AiOP changed or influenced your practice?  Has it added any elements or led to any changes in your method, technique, or medium?

Performing this project made me think much more about time as art, labor as art, and conversations as art. It has made me increasingly more confused by temporary projects and the ethics around engaging people in your projects that are only fleeting. I’ve thought about reiterating this project annually in order to establish a tradition, carry on the relationship, and see what happens over time. While this project in itself was fulfilling for me during the festival, there was a part of me that felt critical of myself for not working with these people on a longer term basis. I was intending to conceptually represent a world where we could work as “jacks of all trades” helping each other in our communities and creating a local currency that circulates among our communities on a smaller scale where inflation and greed can’t change the value of it. But is it ok to represent this temporarily when working with people that actually are working at these businesses as their livelihoods? Would it even be sustainable for me to continue working in this way and still meet my financial needs and time/passion/knowledge needs? The whole project basically made me much more neurotic about deciding to work in communities. And this is a good thing.

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Bodega, photo courtesy of the artist.

Fourteenth street is comprised of many different “publics.” There are the shoppers at Union Square, the commuters, the residents, the shop owners and merchants… How did your work interact with these publics, and what were the outcomes? 

I reckon I already touched on this but the only public I interacted with were the business owners that I worked with. There was some interaction with the customers that came into the businesses but the interaction with them was small and uninteresting. This wasn’t really a piece that asked for an “audience” so people coming to the festival couldn’t “watch” me work because that would be zoo-like and bizarre. It’d make a spectacle out of work and daily life just because I was there and would perhaps create some icky power plays between artist and subject. I see timebanks/14th as a small underground project that only I knew about and only the business owners knew about where we were all serving as artists and audiences, and maybe defining those roles didn’t even matter anymore. It was just about an experience.

 

What advice do you have for artists who are making their first foray into working in the public realm?

Understand what your role is in the public and who your audience is. Ask yourself why you are doing something, why anyone should care about it, and how much agency you are allowing the public. Also, don’t be afraid to take a risk because that’s how we learn!

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Monies, photo courtesy of the artist.

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