There was no question “Cocoon Sojourn” was one of the many memorable performances during the festival. You saw those colorful cocoons move, and possibly heard them whimper. Sherry Aliberti of @CocoonNYC shares her Art in Odd Places experience.
The Cocoons (Sherry Aliberti in the back) photo credit Mila Matveeva
Depending on who is inside the Cocoon, the public is engaged in many ways. The “fixtures” of the city like telephone booths, bike racks, bikes and our favorite, scaffolding, become things to interact with. The performance-installation is defined by how we occupy physical space at our own human scale. When three humans perform in the Cocoon, it becomes a temporary installation. Others must move through this same space that the Cocoon has been “installed in/at.” They can stay in a pack, interacting with each other or spread out so passersby meet each one separately. Each performer brings something new to the Cocoon Project, and I am beginning to call them “muses” rather than performers because people are amused by the performance, they have a hard time looking away, even interrupting their path or phone conversation to explain what they are witnessing, snap a picture, or just watch. Yes, that’s right, this project can even stop traffic without even setting foot off the sidewalk. People will watch from the bus, they will cross the street to get closer. They will follow us for a block, pose for a picture, dance with us or even tickle our feet.I may have conceived this project in a way to create spatial forms but it’s certainly taken on a life of its own and each performer is teaching me more about the project. Learning as I go, movement, interaction, forms and noises inform how I move forward and direct performers, even describe the project. Needless to say, I couldn’t have done it without these muses.
Gillian Barlow Sollenberger, Evan Leed, Stacey Shapiro, Sylvana Tapia, Suzy D, Karen Go, Laura B, Cory Snyder, John Swan, Calin Fernandez, Liz Meals, Karesia Batan, Anna Brown Massey, Bex Burton, Ryan Fitzgerald, Ken Again.
Special thanks also to photographers John Aliberti, Cindy Ruddy, Steve Aliberti, Mila Matveeva, Alex Gryger, Rose Sambrato and Daniel Talonia’s crew.
I’ve reflected a lot on what Martha Graham learned about her Revelations performance with the “Body in a Bag.” The story goes that a woman experiencing this performance was so moved because it unlocked something inside of her that allowed her to cry for the first time about her young son’s tragic death. I think that many people are moved emotionally by the figure’s abstraction in the fabric. Observing the Cocoons, people are clearly inspired, have a hard time not watching and smiling. They look around at each other and sometimes shake their heads. Others become upset by it, like their toes have been stepped on, or worse. Something about the body, moving, exploring this same space but in an entirely unpredictable and spontaneous way that renders these viewers entranced. No matter what, people are having an emotional response. My artist peers recognize that there is something liberating in being in a Cocoon but also by witnessing it, by taking the sidewalk and making it a not entirely empty canvas. The discussion of street art, public art, performance art, installations and interactive art gets messy, as we try to define the hazy edges of where the Cocoons belong.
Maybe it is that the Cocoon performances allow people to let go of some of their urban baggage. Those rules about personal space, about what you’re “supposed” to do on the sidewalk, or “whose” it is. What, how and why Art is, even. These are ideas that the whole scope of Art in Odd Places aims to make transparent and further muddled at the same time; pushing the envelope.
People will react to the Cocoons, and as we consume the public with colorful, morphing sculptural installations, there are some truths that people can’t deny. It does resemble dance, and it’s hard to not be entranced by something that is recognizably another human, just acting in a completely irrational way. But it’s beautiful, it’s hard to not watch and photograph. Hard to take a bad photo of the Cocoons, but you’re missing each performer’s distinct sounds and the jingling of the costume. Sunlight, site and color are just a few things that the Cocoons do differently than Graham’s piece. Clearly the performers are less sombre, sometimes even miming, squacking or barking to get laughs from the others waiting for the light to cross the street. Graham’s piece, when it was first performed was revolutionary because of the abstraction of the shapes and the way it made people FEEL. I cannot deny that this is the same for the Cocoons. But we’re trying it out in a contemporary way. That was almost a hundred years ago! The body is still a form of inspiration for artists and I’m fascinated that this project, so very similar to Graham’s in execution can come from such different concepts and still get such a phenomenal response from people. After all this time, people still find it interesting.