I’d been to the NYC 1993 exhibit at the New Museum a few weeks earlier, but this time my eyes were closed and a stranger was guiding me through the second floor. He described the installation in front of us and, based on his clues, I couldn’t think back to what it could be: “A domestic scene. A red room and a white room. There are family photographs on a table. They look like they could be from the 70s. There’s an American flag, broken dishes on the floor, an open can of Coke…”
When I opened my eyes we were standing in front of Pepón Osorio’s “Scene of the Crime (Whose Crime?)” The first things I would have described to someone who couldn’t see it were the very things my partner left out: a bloody sheet covering a figure, police tape, a doormat that reads, “…only if you can understand that it has/ taken years of pain to gather into our/ homes our most valuable possessions/ but the greater pain is to see how in the/ movies others make fun of the way we/ live.” I noticed the blood and the poem; he noticed the soda and the family photographs.
I joined this stranger and twelve others for Admission: An Elastic City: NYC 1993 Walk, in which dance artist Michelle Boulé and theater director Niegel Smith lead us on an hour long museum tour divided into scores or creative prompts. In one prompt called “Choral Chamber,” we sang the information plaques. In “Choose Your Own Adventure,” we raced through the galleries as Boulé timed us to return to her in under a minute. In “Touch Conveyor,” we lined up in front of Janine Antoni’s seven chocolate busts and were directed to touch our partners in response to the expression on each bust’s face. I stood behind my partner and shook his shoulders in response to a statue with puffy cheeks. He pushed the arms of my glasses off of my ears while I faced one whose eyes were missing.
Elastic City is a project which commissions artists to lead participatory walks in “an ongoing poetic exchange with the places we live in and visit.” Admission is part of their fourth season of walks, as founder Todd Shalom calls them. He has a background in poetry and installation art, and realized the idea for Elastic City while he was traveling. When he returned home, he wondered how he could capture the feeling of traveling, but in a place that was familiar. How do you discover something new in the city where you live? How do you, in a place you know inside-out, force yourself to be momentarily uncomfortable for the sake of adventure and discovery? Poems and writing prompts turned into experiences and physical prompts. “A line break is like a cut in a film,” he says, “or like turning a corner.”
It’s easy for me to appreciate the function of a writing prompt; harder to transfer an exercise for generating creativity from my mind into my body, or only into my eyes. Admission not only challenged how we would traditionally engage with a museum, it also underlined the personalities of the group in ways I don’t think any of us often show. Some of us sang louder than others during “Choral Chamber.” Some ran faster in “Choose Your Own Adventure.” In “Collaboration Installation,” the final exercise, we were directed to form a human statue around Felix Gonzales-Torres’s string of light bulbs on the fourth floor. One member of the group flattened his body across the orange carpet, one reached her arms above her head, one jumped and yelled, and one curled up in a ball in the middle. (That last one was me. I hate performing, so this physical representation of my shyness didn’t surprise me.)
I felt unreasonably elated when I left, like a high after an intense workout, or after laughing really hard. I felt like I could hop on one foot down the street into the subway, or crawl, and that would be my new (maybe better!) way of seeing this familiar street. When I think of creative prompts I think of a direct connection to a work–a piece of writing or a physical structure. I think of contemplation, but Admission invited me to see the museum with my body, within a group of bodies. I’m not going to start running around museums singing every text I see, but I’m grateful for this reminder that in the face of visual art, my body is here too. Maybe I’ll whisper.
Photographs by Caitlin Ruttle for Elastic City. The next Admission will be on May 24th at The New Museum. Learn more and buy tickets at elastic-city.org. Elastic City’s Spring Benefit is also coming up on May 23rd.