My office is on Occidental Square, and so I am familiar with all the regular people who like to spend the day there. They sit on benches pursuing various activities. They are guarded by the wonderful 1970s totems by indigenous carver Duane Pasco one of which you see in this photograph.
So I was surprised one day to suddenly see a red carpet rolled out and a women in ornate Victorian dress standing there.
It was Art Sparks, a program sponsored by 4 Culture
(whom I just highlighted in the previous entry). They have commissioned artists to come to Occidental Square all summer and spark it, that means, bring art to the parks that interacts with the public, and creates a more friendly setting for passersby.
The red carpet and the woman in Victorian dress, I learned, were part of that project.
She was reading War and Peace in her period costume, as she walked up and down the carpet, and we were invited to accompany her for a round trip as she read. So I did. Twice. It was fun. The first time I was asked to hold her parasol, as she read a passage from early in the book, before the war takes hold. The second time, we were out on the battlefield dealing with problems.
I asked her about the project and she said she liked to take on challenges, like a very long book that we have difficulty reading these days.
She was there a whole week, every day, reading, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people keeping her company.
I went from dubious to enthusastic. I love books. Her perseverence and good humor won me over. I found her reading on a break in the Grand Central Building and she was really into the book. I asked her for my friend John at the Globe Bookstore which edition she was reading, and it was the latest. (The Globe Bookstore doesn't have a website. Go and discover for yourself on First and Main, now that Elliott Books is gone, it is a treasure that is to be relished all the more!)
So it was a great project.
Tony had brought his hobby to the park. It was a flight simulator. He said it was what pilots do to learn how to fly. He had a lot of equipment and he enjoyed showing me how it worked. But of course he wasn't part of Art Sparks. He was just there because it was a sunny day.
Another group called City Meditation Crew, from NYC I think, made a meditation circle with reflective gum wrappers. They were wearing white costumes with big white hats. They definately stood out from the rest of us mortals. They created events including a walking mediation that called attention to daily living. (I couldn't stay for their events, but I thought about them as I passed by with my daily living) There was also a Butoh performance that I didn't see. There are other events coming up, listed on the website
James Washington Foundation which sponsored him as part of a residency. He walked from the Washington Foundation in the Central District, down Capitol Hill, and all the way to Occidental Square. He gave away all the toys on the cart and on the way he had a lot of great conversations with the public and a lot of fun. Simonsen and all the artists in residence at the Washington House are inspired by the spirit of James Washington. They respond to this famous sculptor's home and legacy in many different ways as they work in his studio. Simonsen responded to Washington's big commitment to children, community, and public engagement. He transformed that into his own exploration of issues that artists face about how to interact with the commercial systems of art (which he was obviously subverting here in a number of ways.) Washington was really brilliant at promoting himself by the way.
So how does one evaluate these type of art expressions? By whether some members of the public respond, then they all worked, by whether the public space is enlivened, that also happened. But still I am struck by the fact that Mimi was so much more really there than some of the other projects sponsored by Art Sparks, even though she had a red carpet and a Victorian dress. We could all walk with her.
I also really like the artists like Tony and Garric who just do their own thing out there.