This weekend I attended Conflux, the psychogeography conference held in Williamsburg every year. From the site:
//Conflux is the annual New York festival for contemporary psychogeography, the investigation of everyday urban life through emerging artistic, technological and social practice. At Conflux, visual and sound artists, writers, urban adventurers and the public gather for four days to explore their urban environment.//
I’m lucky that it’s literally one block from my house. This year it was hosted by the good people of Not An Alternative collective at their gallery The Change You Want to See.
I’m always surprised by what I like at Conflux. While my own work is currently more rooted in nonfiction, activism and social issues, I tend to favor (and often get a lot out of) the more playful works that don’t directly declare a relationship with a greater movement or mission. Last year I adored DropSpots, a sort of urban game where you find a spot on a map that is a designated DropSpot, visit it and collect what is there, leave something for the next person to find, and plot the exchanges on a website.
This year I loved Theft and Rescue Society (Daniel Huyberts and Dayna Solano), which is funny because when I first encountered it I almost hated it. The premise is that stuffed bunnies are being used to smuggle contraband into the city and then discarded to fend for themselves. Somehow when I first skimmed the informational postcard, I imagined that this was not some fictional premise, but a real phenomenon in which the society was seeking to intervene to make some sort of poignant statement about finding the tenderness in harsh city living.
I was thrown to discover that it was actually fictional, and the adorable bunnies were made by the society for the project and placed throughout Williamsburg so *you* could find and adopt them. I admit that at first, for whatever reason, I judged this rather harshly. I wasn’t really feeling the project’s relationship to psychogeography and the fictionalization rubbed me the wrong way for some reason (man, I need to drop that stick out of my ass).
But I did like the stuffed bunny in the picture, so I set out trying to find one. I looked at several map points, but was disappointed to find that the various bunnies I sought had already been rescued. I gave up.
Later that day, I was walking back from Mikey’s Hookup with my parents, telling my mom about the project when I happened to look over at the ground in front of a closed garage and there was an awesome little bunny, just waiting to be rescued. I named him Mac, after my roommate Sabrina’s cousin (I like his name) and also because we had just picked up my iMac when we found him. I officially adopted him on the website.
Later that night, walking around the neighborhood with Sabrina and my parents, I was scanning for more bunnies (I really wanted to find one for my mom). The next day I suddenly became aware about how the project/game had actually changed the way I was looking at my neighborhood. All the bunnies were hidden within ten blocks of my house. I found myself looking for typical bunny hiding places, which included drain pipes, window sills, and any little nook and cranny you could imagine. I was seeing things about the area where I live that I had never seen before: newspaper stands I had never noticed, fencing I had passed a hundred times and never seen, and all these mysterious pipes (are they still functional?).
That was realization number one: Theft and Rescue led me to have a highly psychogeographic experience that I discovered for myself. By immersing me in the fiction and letting me play, they changed how I related to my environment without telling me how to relate to it. [I’m not yet sure the questionnaire I filled out about adopting my bunny: I think they should have allowed me to describe the moment of encounter — I was dying to — though many of the questions were fun and creativity-provoking, which is always great. I think that seeing the gallery when it goes up will clarify.]
The next day (Sunday) was the last day of Conflux, and despite the addition of many new bunnies, I still wasn’t having luck find one for mom. My parents and I wandered down Hope Street to try to find Concrete Crickets (which I couldn’t find) when suddenly I saw another little bunny stuck in a fence. This one was covered in felt fencing and significantly smaller than Mac. My mom happily adopted him and named him Buttons, for his button eyes.
A few hours later, I was thinking how nice it would be if I could find one for Sabrina. I checked the map and took a quick spin around the neighborhood, eyes peeled. I didn’t find a bunny (sorry, Breen! You can share Mac).
Realization number two was not such a huge epiphany, but was simply the realization that it was not only more successful but also more fun to just find the bunnies while walking around for other purposes than to actually go out and (unsuccessfully) seek them. I think this was true of many Conflux projects, and some of my frustrations with finding projects (it is almost impossible to fit the schedule for these projects into a little booklet) would have been irrelevant had I simply stumbled upon them as a passerby.
A good example is the phone booth installations. A curator had curated artists to transform phone booths, which are now mostly obsolete, thus reclaiming them as centers of communication, artistic rather than telephonic. I purposefully set out to see them, and was slightly disappointed to find that (at least on Thursday) a couple hadn’t been installed yet. The ones I did see were great. However, it would have actually been much more exciting to happen upon them, and come to my own conclusions about their meaning.
More on Conflux in the coming days. Thanks to all the organizers and artists for providing great experiences and food for thought.