Art in Odd Places Is Happening on 14th Street: An Interview With One of the Artists

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Art in Odd Places is an annual New York City exhibit featuring artists, doing, well, art in odd places. This year (the sixth in New York), the theme focuses on ritual, with 70 artists taking over 14th street from October 1st through the 10th to do hour-long projects on that theme each day. The goal of the project is to stretch the amounts of interaction and communication artists can have with the public by taking works beyond a traditional viewing platform. The projects themselves range from a hotline upon which New Yorkers can detail their favorite places in the five boroughs to live musical performances in Hudson River Park. We spoke with participating artist Gretchen Vitamvas to learn more.

Do you have a specific project in mind, or are you doing something different every day?
It's going to be the same piece every day, and it's called Automaton. The theme of the show is Ritual, and in my own personal work I've been exploring camouflage and clothing, and I got really interested in armor. So I've created this sort of robotic armor, and I'll just be this robotic automaton going about living regular city life. I'll ride the subway, go the store, get coffee, all that stuff. I'm using this armor, which is made out of vinyl advertisements, as a kind of protection from the city.

Is the piece interactive?
It's really not designed to be interactive. I'm going to keep to a sort of pre-programmed character. If people address me I'll talk back, but in general I'm just going to go about my route. I made cards that have a description of what the character is, my route, and about Art in Odd Places.

And what is your route?
I'm going to begin in Union Square and head over to Fourth Avenue, go to a Starbucks there, go to the bank. I'm going to walk along 14th street and get to Sixth Avenue, and take the subway back to Union Square. I'll probably do it twice per hour. On weekdays, it'll be 4:30 to 5:30, and on weekends, 3 to 4. This will be from October 1st through the 9th.

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How is the project being curated?
There were two guest curators this year. One, Kalia Brooks, is the curator at the MOCADA, and the other, Trinidad Fombella, is the assistant curator at Museum del Barrio. Those two women chose the artists. There'll be a lot of projects going, on, but 14th Street is pretty long. It'll be interesting to see which ones I run into on my route.

Is this legal?
In our initial meetings with all the artists, there are lawyers present to tell us what the boundaries are. Artists are encouraged to push the boundaries, or interact with the space the way any citizen would. There was an artist who wanted to decorate the sculptures in Union Square [Leon Reid IV's "Tourist-in-Chief"], and he had to jump through a lot of hoops to do that, even though it wasn't a permanent installation. They eventually let him do it, but at first it was kind of a problem. I think it's often an issue of talking to the local business, seeing what they're comfortable with.

I think it's a really good impulse, to keep street art happening. Art in Odd Places is a really great organization.

For more on Art in Odd Places 2011: RITUAL, see their website, here.

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