Yesterday marked the beginning of The Festival of Ideas for the New City, a 5-day long, city-wide initiative bringing together arts institutions and community groups to discuss the future of the city. It’s a topic that’s going to be seeing increasing cultural relevance in the next few years since census statistics show that more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities—and that number is on the rise. What does this mean for the future of our cities? The future of architecture, transportation, social interaction, and various other day-to-day transactions that hardly cross our minds? Those are precisely the questions being addressed by the panels, exhibitions, workshops and various other events taking place this weekend.
One of the events we’re most looking forward to this weekend is a series of monumental architectural projection mappings that will transform the facade of The New Museum this Saturday night at 8:00pm. The project is a massive collaborative effort that brings together an impressive list of NYC artists working across a variety of mediums from video, to performance, to graffiti, to… crochet? The list includes: Vito Acconci, Heidi Chisholm, Jon Kessler, Marilyn Minter, Rashaad Newsome, Olek, Mia Pearlman, Richard The, Dana Schutz, Softlab, Terraform, Ryan Uzilevsky, Z Collective, Farkas Fülöp, Monica Wyndam, Dustin Yellin.
The projection performance is being executed by Light Harvest Studio, a NYC-based design and installation studio specializing in site-specific multimedia works and is produced by Nuit Blanche NYC. We caught up with Light Harvest’s creative director, Ryan Uzilevsky, to find out more about the collaboration and what we can expect to see Saturday night.
The Creators Project: How does this project factor into the ideas being discussed in The Festival of Ideas?
Ryan Uzilevsky: Mainly this project is about radically re-thinking the crystallization of urban architecture and considering how the human imagination could have a closer to real-time conversation with the monuments that surround us. It feels like our society and collective conscience is moving so fast that something as sedentary as architecture will never be able to keep up. It will always look outdated, especially when designed to look “modern.” These buildings are always going to feel like an outdated sports car or a pair of shoes that was really cool seven years ago but now people just snicker at… But, if we are able to really transform a building’s surface with projection mapping, using local artists from the community who work in different mediums to communicate something that is immediate, timely, and impermanent, but also monumental in scale, then this works well with the museum’s “Festival of Ideas for the New City.”
What does the title “Let Us Make Cake” mean?
“Let Us Make Cake” is a play on “let them eat cake,” something said by Queen Marie Antoinette when the peasants were starving and they complained of having no bread, so she told them to eat cake. The quote is often used to express the obliviousness of the ruling class. Right now, our country seems to be falling to pieces, and more and more meaningful culture is being [edged] out every day, creating what could be seen as a cultural starvation. “Let Us Make Cake” is about making your own luxury, which is a more sustainable than going out and buying “luxury.”
That’s quite a varied group of collaborating artists—how were these artists chosen and by whom?
Many of the artists who worked on content for this were part of a discussion group we had for a few months focusing on public art. Others were brought on much later when the larger New York art world learned [about] what we were doing and wanted to try it.
What was the process of collaboration like? How did you adapt their works to architecturally map the museum?
I would say that was the most challenging part. To steer the works into a manifestation that worked well on the building was a tough negotiation, especially for people who felt their ideas were not possible to be flexible with. In the end, it was all pretty experimental. Some things worked really well, and some things didn’t translate. It’s hard when you have a very specific canvas to present to an artist, but sometimes very interesting ideas can come out of narrow parameters. The key is to understand and communicate those parameters way in advance so the ideas can come, or you end up freaking people out.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
We used some cool techniques such as scale models of the building in various sizes for the artists to interact with. Some of the challenges were working with non-trained animals, un-predictable chemistry experiments, stop-motion photography, round-the-clock production schedules and lots of specialized technology.
Is it a big deal that this is the tallest architectural projection in the US? How come?
When the projection is viewed in person it’s going to be on a very massive scale, one that is seldom seen outside of an IMAX movie theater. In fact, it will be almost twice as tall as the tallest IMAX screen. Spectators along the Bowery will also be relatively close to the building, so there will be a tremendous effect of having the content traveling far above their heads and into the sky.
What are your hopes for the project in terms of audience reaction and the impact it has on our perception of/relationship to our city?
I hope that this projection mapping project, as well as other public art projects that I am involved in, can open up more avenues for collective transformative experiences to happen on the streets after dark. The scale of things that can occur on the street is much more epic than what can occur indoors. It would be great if every time you pass by the area where one of these projects took place you would have a good memory and look at it differently from then on. Within that context, I personally would like to see a “more culture, less alienation” message communicated, but that’s just me.
There’s an overwhelming number of Festival of Ideas events going on this weekend. Architizer does a nice job of breaking them down into “personality types” so you can find a customized itinerary based on how you self-identify.
Projection mock-ups and video courtesy of Light Harvest Studio.