Presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.

AiOP 2017: SENSE- Thinker in Residence Matthew Morowitz’s Last Call

About 3 months ago was the Art in Odd Places 2017 festival, SENSE. I first became involved with AiOP during the 2012 festival, MODEL, when I joined the staff as a blog intern. While I was excited by the opportunity to write for this quirky-sounding event, I didn’t expect that this festival would be where I first felt like I really came alive in my post-collegiate professional and personal life. Having been as impressed as I was by the experience, I made a promise to the founder and director, Ed, that I would never end my participation with AiOP. However, a lot can and has changed in these past five years and I’ve learned to not make any more promises without foresight. Though I am thankful for all the memories I made, connections I fostered, and experiences I had being a part of this wonderful yearly phenomenon, it is time for me to move on. This is last call…

I had not intended to return to AiOP for SENSE, as RACE seemed to have taken a toll on many of the people involved, but I knew I didn’t want to end my run with the festival on such a lackluster note. I agreed to come back on the condition that I would also be a Thinker in Residence, a condition I first thought would be dismissed but was surprised, and elated, that Ed and the curators agreed to uphold. When I attended my first meeting with this year’s festival staff in April, I was surprised and delighted by the open communication and strong sense of camaraderie that existed between everyone.

AiOP Sense Banner

Though I had been part of past festivals as a staff member, this year was a new experience for me. As a Thinker in Residence, this festival became a chance for me to explore the works and the street on my own terms, not just be there to document for the blog or assist the artists. The festival’s opening night was not only a familiar scene, but also an entre into what SENSE had to offer. When I first joined and during 2013’s NUMBER festival, the opening had taken place in Campos Plaza between Avenues B&C. Unfortunately, from 2014 onwards I both had not been able to attend any of the openings and the plaza no longer became a welcome space for that event. The south side of 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues was the epicenter of the opening night, with a collection of works installed and many performances taking place along that stretch of block.

The "bar" at the SENSE opening.

The “bar” at the SENSE opening.

The interplay of the pieces and performances made for a unique opening scene: LuLu LoLo as Mother Cabrini blessing passersby, ART&COM’s Collective Bargain rallying the masses, Billy X. Curmano’s Expeditionary Art Adventure Team engaging pedestrians to discuss the waterways, not to mention all the black footprints on paper plates from Jan Baracz’s Cosmic Error.

LuLu LoLo as Mother Cabrini at the SENSE opening.

LuLu LoLo as Mother Cabrini at the SENSE opening.

Billy X. Curmano’s "Expeditionary Art Adventure Team" at the SENSE opening.

Billy X. Curmano’s “Expeditionary Art Adventure Team” at the SENSE opening.

Jan Baracz’s "Cosmic Error" at the SENSE opening.

Jan Baracz’s “Cosmic Error” at the SENSE opening.

For me though, the most memorable moment was probably the most unexpected: when the incense sticks on Eliza Swann & Golden Dome School’s She Has Risen processional altar burst into flames. In that moment I was reminded of one of the first things I learned about public performance: the work’s impact doesn’t stem from the original intention, but from when the piece is presented and the viewer observes/interacts with it. For me, this accident only served to boost the intensity and celebratory power of the performance.

The moment when Eliza Swann & Golden Dome School’s "She Has Risen" processional altar burst into flames at the SENSE opening.

The moment when Eliza Swann & Golden Dome School’s “She Has Risen” processional altar burst into flames at the SENSE opening.

The next two days gave me a greater sense of the festival as it stretched along the entirety of 14th Street. 14th Street is an ever-changing beast and, in a way, that makes it the perfect location to host a happening like AiOP: the streetscape is always changing, businesses are coming and going, and, because it is bordered by about 5-6 neighborhoods, no one point on the street has the same feel as another. However, when it came to actually experiencing the work for what they were, my dual status as staff member/Thinker became a bit of a detriment. Because the artists knew me as a staff person, many of them were not fully able to allow me to engage with them as performer. On Saturday I thus tried to stay on the fringes of the performances I came across, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t experience some wonderful sights. I not only witnessed Arantxa Araujo in her shimmering SENSEsoscope outfit traverse the street from west to east, but was even able to capture the moment when she collided with Ayana Evans laying out the red carpet as part of her I Want Some Sugar With My S***.  

Ayana Evans laying out the red carpet as part of her "I Want Some Sugar With My S***" for Arantxa Araujo in her shimmering "SENSEsoscope" performance.

Ayana Evans laying out the red carpet as part of her “I Want Some Sugar With My S***” for Arantxa Araujo in her shimmering “SENSEsoscope” performance.

Yet, what really became the most wonderfully bizarre moment of that day was stumbling across Yasi Alipour’s Think Tanks, Without an Agenda, Without the Self-Confidence, Without Hope in the Meatpacking District stretch of the street. Though I had come across Yasi’s project during the opening when it was in the “Maps” phase, it was now in the “Monopoly” phase. This turned out to be an unexpected treat; I joined in on Yasi’s Cold War-revised game board just as it narrowed down to the Soviet Union vs. the United States. From then on my mind was no longer thinking about the festival, or even 14th Street, but on references to historic events and appropriate puns with every roll of the dice.

Yasi Alipour’s "Think Tanks, Without an Agenda, Without the Self-Confidence, Without Hope" in the Monopoly phase.

Yasi Alipour’s “Think Tanks, Without an Agenda, Without the Self-Confidence, Without Hope” in the Monopoly phase.

Playing Monopoly with Yasi.

Playing Monopoly with Yasi.

On the last day of the festival, I was able to approach the artists and their works in a more natural way, as I ended up making a friend who walked the festival route with me. I met A at the end of 14th Street on Avenue C while waiting for Denise Treizman’s Rel(a)y performance to begin. As the Rel(a)y sculpture began rolling west, so too did we. A became the stand-in I needed to really engage with the festival; I was able to get a greater sense of how the artists were presenting their works by observing how they interacted with her.

Denise Treizman’s "Rel(a)y."

Denise Treizman’s “Rel(a)y.”

Along the way, I saw A blessed by Mother Cabrini, take Antonia Pérez’s Flowers of Common Sense pledge, and even get offered a talisman by Charley Friedman’s Adenoid’s Adenoid. What I saw in these interactions was heartfelt and engaging, and at some points even a little cheeky. While I was hoping to connect with the works over the course of this festival, I wasn’t expecting to connect with a new person.

A being blessed by Mother Cabrini.

A being blessed by Mother Cabrini.

A taking Antonia Pérez’s "Flowers of Common Sense" pledge.

A taking Antonia Pérez’s “Flowers of Common Sense” pledge.

A being offered a talisman by Charley Friedman’s "Adenoid’s Adenoid."

A being offered a talisman by Charley Friedman’s “Adenoid’s Adenoid.”

In every AiOP festival I participated, I always felt like I was at a different crossroad in my life: on the verge of starting or ending a job, a relationship, in the midst of school, or some other life milestone. SENSE became the perfect point to end my time with AiOP; I was able to recapture some of the same magic I felt when I first joined in 2012, as well as offer my own experiences and insight to aid this year’s curators and staff. AiOP gave me some of my fist work experience, helped start paying attention to my surroundings, and became the place where I started to come into my own. I look forward to seeing how the festival develops and what directions the next curators, artists, and dedicated staff members take it.

AiOP 2017: SENSE- Thinker in Residence Sherese Francis’s Poems


Sherese Francis

The word poetry comes from the word Poiesis, which means “a creation” or “made thing.” A poem is as an invention, something realized from things we come across randomly. My experience at Art in Odd Places was mostly random encounters with the artworks. This was my first time and I didn’t look at the website before I came, so I felt lost walking around sometimes. But sometimes, out of the randomness, something beautiful can be created. As humans, our power of figurative language is our ability to connect random things together that seem to have no connection on the surface and that to me is mystical. For my posts, I wrote mystical poetry inspired by the art I came across on Friday and Sunday.


Art in Odd Places 10/13/17 The Journey Is Just As Important As the Art (A Prose Poem)

When you didn’t prepare beforehand and didn’t map out where to go:
Today’s color must have been green. I met a man dressed in green on a subway platform on my
way here. He was telling me the secrets of the world.
My week has been busy. Planning and doing. An exhibition of books. Hiding the secrets of the
world. I didn’t have time to prepare before coming here. To think about the art I would possibly
see. But it’s my first time. Today is Friday the 13th and I ended up here on 14th street. I decided
to wing it, not knowing where to go.
My phone full of online directions. My guide with a limited battery life. I exited the F train and
saw the Stone Wall Gnosis. I had no knowledge beforehand. Was it part of the event? Wasn’t
I kept walking.
I looked at my phone and it told me Avenue C. The L train. First Avenue. Where is the art? When
it comes to the street, anything can be art. Back to phone. Immaculate Conception. That was one
of the odd places. I walked inside. There was no sign of the art. I walked back out and saw two
men. I asked for directions to the art. They’ve seen that place before, but it’s not here. Maybe the
YMCA? It has all kinds of art.
I kept walking.
Wait. Was this one? Crocheted purple flowers on a gate? Yes! I kept walking, but this time like I

received a token to the next level. Still walking. I found nothing else. Union Square. The statue
of Ghandi. No one was there yet. The installation had not happened yet. A motto near the statue:
“there is more to life than increasing its speed.”
I kept walking.
Passing by the Salvation Army, I saw the art deco that I thought was supposed to be at
Immaculate Conception is here. And it was near the YMCA! Just not the east side one, but the
west side. Was that a trick? Maybe all journeys are a fight to the very end.
I kept walking.
A vintage shop. Beloved as a sign in the window. Next to it a record album of the Isle of Wight

rock festival. Jimi Hendrix headlined. I tried to find the Work Harder sign, but wasn’t sure if I
had to go into the gallery. I looked in the window and saw a group of men working. They saw
I kept walking.
Bathroom break. I rushed back to the YMCA. Shopping break. Picked up toothpaste for my
parents at Duane Reade. Returned to bathroom break. I saw the green monster with its head on
its hand giving out talismans. I promised myself to return. First bathroom break.
I walked back.
Adenoid was its name. Its head was its puppet. Its talisman. Adenoid asked me what I wished.
Said in this world everyone needs a talisman. All the powerful men in the world have one. Said
choose a talisman. There were elders’ hair, feathers with stones, squirrel heads and body parts,
and grass from the midwest. I chose an orange feather with a white stone that had a red dot. I
wished for safe travels home. The woman next to me chose a black feather. She wished for a
better leader than the one we have. Or at least that’s how I phrase it. Don’t want her getting in
I kept walking.
It’s funny how your mental state can change over the course of a day. Can affect your
appreciation for art. When I started I was tired. I wanted to reach a destination and see art, but
this journey demanded I search for it like looking for buried treasure. It wasn’t what I knew I
wanted, but I accepted what I got.
I got to keep walking.
A green box. Four diamonds for windows. I looked inside one and then another. The gods
blessed our minds with knowledge and we traveled the spaces of the world like astronauts. My
looking attracted others.
I kept walking.
I reached the High Line. I walked the stairs. I found a seat. I found rest. And here I am sitting
here staring at green shoots writing this. Green must have been today’s color.
I walk back.
I return to the Stone Wall Gnosis I saw at the start of this journey and saw as I passed down 14th
street again. An ancient wall with the secrets of the world.

Reception In an Odd Place

The firefly
has landed
on the back of my hand.
A dark inky imprint,
of my boots
on a mat of paper
like Matt’s
striped black and white
My other choice
would have been a bat
or a fish.
A red pyre passes
of a fallen Goddess
who rises once again;
a Goddess of love
named Lady K Fever
plays Maria Maria with her
smudge stick smoke swinging
through the air;
Saint Cabrini passes
and blesses all those in transition.
And I am drinking pomegranate sparkling
from Ed the master mixologist;
eating a moon pie
with a tricky fruit’s blood and curdling milk,
meeting old and new friends
through the oracle
of business cards,
being taken under
into this night
of collective
into this union
of art on the street.

Art in Odd Places 10/15/17 Whatever You Find Along the Way, Finds You (Invenio)

Blinded woman stands with two nurses at her side.
Her sign reads: We are all hungry.
The green monster Adenoid is there again
with its talismans.
The back of my throat has been swollen
from allergies early this week.
I need to remember to drink more water.
Collective Bargain: What do we want?
What are our demands?
Common sense by numbers —
14 hanging jerseys above
a sidewalk drawing of
“I’ll fight.”
Is the “We will rebuild” sign
on a pile of rubble part of it all?
Beloved is in a closed shop’s window.
An unexpected relay of rainbow dancers

and a rolling pipe pin

returns me to my point.
Piles of white paper made in the image
of fire wood, building an imagination of return.
Crocheted plastic flower and a promise

to refuse plastic, to use less,
to value things we see as valueless
like the ghost histories of objects we throw away,
their spectrographies, and unexpected meanings,
like candy corn and mints in the shape of the
Pythagorean theorem, in the shaping of all
the lineages that make up who you are.
I am a gathering station of creative wellness,

a fullness of herbs steeped into the waters of my body,
bush knowledges of my Caribbean ancestors and medicine makers.
Mother Cabrini blesses me as a beautiful spirit. Tells me
to hold onto it and to follow my heart. I find the tarot table

and a mix of cards. Card 14 is the card of Temperance. Balance.
Patience. Purpose. Meaning. Art. A woman seeking a reading
tells the story of the Kallikak family divided into a rich side
and a poor side. The question is always what is moral and
social success? Can the rich be moral? Can the poor be rich?
What is the secret behind why one ends up one way
and the other doesn’t? The bookmark and the seashell I take
without a reading. The expedition ends before I meet my friend
and I am still thinking of the team in white coats carrying their own flags,
a preaching man playing the mbira, next to green monster heads
in a red cart, rapping about all the ways the world could change.