“Honey, do we have any plans this weekend?” “Well, I was quite hoping we could take a psychogeographic drift down 8th Street.”
This weekend’s Conflux Festival sets out with the goal of turning the streets of the East Village into a laboratory for investigation, exploration and interpretation of the urban environment through art and technology. It’s the seventh annual staging of an event devoted solely to exhibiting the work of artists dealing with an interest in psychogeography. As originally defined by Guy Debord in 1955, psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Conflux bills itself as exhibiting work ranging from continuing investigations in the mode of Debord and his fellow Situationists to “emerging artistic, conceptual, and technology-based practices.” In collaboration with host institution NYU’s Steinhardt School, the festival was founded by and continues to be produced by Christina Ray, with whom Urban Omnibus readers should be familiar through our series of interviews with Ray-represented artists Swoon, Heather L. Johnson, Emily Henretta, and Roberto Mollá. Urban Omnibus’ own Cassim Shepard was proud to introduce the Omnibus to Confluxers at last year’s festival, and this year we’re pleased to be on board as an official media partner. As such, we want to offer the following teaser for the over 75 installations, performances and expeditions scheduled for the weekend.
Kicking things off on Friday, urban historian, photographer, and explorer Steve Duncan will deliver the keynote speech at the festival’s base camp at the Barney Building of NYU at 34 Stuyvesant Street. Following the address is an opening party with a performance by the new media collective Soundwalk. The party is free and open to the public, but the speech and the panels taking place at the Barney Building over the weekend require a $5 fee — check out Conflux’s website for details and a map of events.
Complementing the exploratory happenings are a series of “indoor events” scheduled in the Barney Building. A few familiar faces will convene at four long table discussions throughout the weekend, including Mark Shepard — curator of last year’s Architectural League exhibit Toward the Sentient City and creator of the Sentient City Survival Kits (the latest edition of which features a Situationist-inspired iPhone app, which issues users with deliberately confusing directions to encourage confrontation and heightened awareness of the world around us) — and artist and activist Brooke Singer, who shared her project Superfund365 during last summer’s Goo Gone discussion.
The bulk of Conflux takes places throughout the East Village, with over 75 interactive art exhibits scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. This year’s stated themes of “investigation, action and transmission” just might be ambiguous enough to encompass what promises to be two days full of innumerable approaches to addressing ways of interpreting the everyday of urban life. Among the more eccentric, Cara Brostrom will spend all of Saturday attempting to walk the entire perimeter of island of Manhattan, and Aidan Dahlin Nolan will be dressed as a “ghost frog” in Tompkins Square Park, a former wetland, to recount the history of the city’s valuable and disappearing wet lands. Somewhere in between, “The World is My 8th Street” propositions you to find your inner flâneur through an audio tour juxtaposing personal accounts of space with stories of urban encounters from pop culture, literature, and historical accounts. Towards more practical ends, the DuKobe Studio is running a workshop on Saturday to “show how to combine crowdsourced data with infrared satellite data to create a multilayered, composite map from soil to atmosphere.” In another instance of crowd sourcing, one team will offer the chance to be a tektonomatologist for a day (stay tuned for more on tektonomastics, the study of building names, in this week’s Omnibus feature, going up on Wednesday).
The pervasiveness of artists’ engagement with virtual space and its confluence with the real space of the city finds an extreme in what might be the festival’s first-ever post-human performance artist. Sculpture 1.2 is billed by creating artist Chad Stayrook as “an autonomous multimedia object aware of her location in space in time.” Stationed at Conflux headquarters, Sculpture will interact with festival participants through voicemail, email and Twitter and will photograph, record and tweet “her” geographic coordinates every hour.
In a world in which interaction increasingly means virtual interaction, a litany of exhibits are happening through the use of smart phones and geo-tagging. Barcode Cinema, and Code.Drift for instance, will both allow participants to access layers of information using camera phones by scanning barcodes and tags placed at sites around the neighborhood. Admist all of these high-tech exhibits, Miram Simun and Hans Gullickson’s Informational Derive — which will place on the street white-painted newspaper distribution boxes containing blank white magazines — reads as a deviant and techno-phobic critique of the proliferation of (pointless) information.
Several projects seek to look at the broader potential for how new media can and is changing how we experience space in specific ways. Team_Intersection aims to answer the question “What happens when the geographical distance between different urban territories is collapsed and a new virtual space is created?” by placing two-way cameras and video screens at disparate sites in far-away neighborhoods throughout the city. Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek’s We AR in MoMA also explores the possibilities of fictive realities by using augmented reality technologies to create and then “invade” MoMA with participant-created artworks of their own.
In 2006 artist Sheryl Oring embarked on a cross-country “performance” in which she sat at a typewriter while participants dictated letters to the president. Her proposal for this year’s Conflux merely states an intent to “collect clothes and redistribute them both from the booth and through community organizations working with low income families.” Is this act — which takes place every day of the year via thousands of collection bins that differ only in lacking their own web presences — “art?” A question to ponder as, on the streets of the East Village this weekend, you try and figure out which passerbys holding smart phones are participating in an art festival and which ones are not.
Eric Peterson is a project associate at Urban Omnibus.