Presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.

Peter Bergman from The Institute of Sociometry responds to curator Radhika Subramaniam’s questions about their experiences during the Art in Odd Places 2013: Number festival.

For AiOP 2013: Number, a team of IS agents from The Institute of Sociometry­—Peter Bergman, Heather Link, and Jim Hanson—constructed the art. Eric Von Haynes, Risa Haynes, Daniel Weise helped by operating a box at the festival.


IS Photo by Radhika Subramaniam

“The Institute of Sociometry at AiOP 2013 NUMBER.” Photographer: Radhika Subramaniam.

Had you worked in public space before?  How was this experience similar or different?

Yes – almost exclusively. Documentation and remnants are good for shows or art venues but the actual work, as much as possible, is manifested in public. Art in Odd Places was both similar and different in two important ways. The similarity was in the immediate feel of being on the street hustling pedestrians to interact with the art. It felt very guerrilla as usual. The difference in experience was that the over aching theme of the festival, proximity to other performers on the street, promotions and documentation by AiOP, catalogs, and general encouragement by Radhika, Ed, and AiOP staff coalesced in a background aura of credibility that encouraged confident interactions between performers and passers-by resulting in an overwhelmingly positive experience.

14th Street is AiOP’s biggest collaborator – both as an ally and as a competitor.  How did you adapt your work to the location?  

We made sure our work was mobile so we could move anywhere within the zone up and down 14th street. Also, so we could easily move on if asked to. Being from out of town—our group, Institute of Sociometry or IS, came in from Denver and Chicago—we didn’t have a personal or visceral connection to 14th street so we wanted to be able to improvise and explore. That being said, we tended to stick around Union Square. It seemed that a diverse group of people were continually replenishing the square. A couple groups of touristy types were specifically looking for AiOP and caught us there. A significantly greater number of people seemed to filter into Union Square looking for art in odd places – if you know what I mean…

IS Photo courtesy of the artists

“The Institute of Sociometry at AiOP 2013 NUMBER.” Photo courtesy of the artists.

Was there one memorable moment?  Can you tell us about it?

So many! Wow – it’s hard to limit it to one. On our own Incidence Report lists a favorite for each of us:

Risa corralled in a man who, after initial reluctance, was so moved by seeing his face inset into a rotund hispanic 7-11 clerk that he decided to forgo his lunch and invite his cousin he hasn’t seen in a long time to a movie.

Jim’s waxed mustache attracted a comparison to Salidor Dalí from a man claiming to be his former chauffeur adding, “That man never gave me a NICKEL!” The disgruntled driver looked into the 1 box before telling Handsome Jim he has the worlds only human skull signed by Dalí.

Eric talked for over 30 minutes with two forty-something men about the connections between private prisons and Chicago violence after showing them the stick-up robber in the 7-11 box.

Heather was cautioned that they are tracking us with infrared, and that the drone program in Pakistan is merely a harbinger of what’s going to happen domestically by a short white American lady in a hijab, pajama pants, and flip-flops who had just looked in the 911 box.

Dan counseled several harried New Yorkers ranging in age from six to ninety through a meditation exercise counting the lights in the ∞ box.

Peter was approached by a serious looking man in a dirty t-shirt and cap wanting to talk about Sociometry. A psychiatrist, the man had trained with the founder of Sociometry Jacob Levy Moreno and had participated in mass Psycho Drama exercises in the early 1970’s. While he seemed a touch disappointed to find out we were engaging in Guerilla Sociometry which is similar in focus but doesn’t conform to the rigorous standards of math or science, he did agree that we were engaging in a core principle of Psycho Drama – acting out your problems in front of large groups.

Do you have an association between number and place to add to our numerologies? 

We deployed our “1” box, which allows you to have a private moment by insetting your face into George Washington from the dollar bill, an Occupy protestor with a $1 bill taped over his mouth, or George Washington with the $1 gag right in front of the George Washington statue in Union Square. We also had a 1% box which allowed you to inset your face into a 1% biker or Mitt Romney.

I had noticed the statue but not registered as to what it was as I was focused on the task at hand. It was an afternoon of conversations with people about money, social stratification, 1%, the President, and people routinely being jazzed to see their face on money. Several hours into standing by the statue plaque I finally looked down and read it registering that we were under the watchful gaze of Washington, the first president, asking people to stick their faces in a box marked 1 to see their face in his face on the dollar bill.

IS2 Photo- Radhika Subramaniam

“The Institute of Sociometry at AiOP 2013 NUMBER.” Photographer: Radhika Subramaniam.

What was the oddest experience or the greatest surprise?

The greatest surprise was how immediately curious and talkative New Yorkers were almost to a person. When we were preparing and packaging the boxes to ship from Denver we were thinking we’d interact with maybe 5-7 people total. We have some experience trying to engage the public with art on the street and it’s an uphill climb. We surpassed 5 people in the first 15 minutes and lost track the first day. We must have talked to hundreds of people collectively – regularly for 10 minutes or more! Everyone had at least one 30-40 minute conversation with a New Yorker who had been just passing by.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity! It was affirming.

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