Sunday, June 14, 2009

Freestyle Connections

It's only fitting that the last organization I visit in New York was also the first. This time, Free Style Arts Association was part of the Live at the Gantries free performance series in Queens. Their project this week consisted of inviting people to tie brightly colored rope across a frame held up by two people.

People could choose from a variety of colors and pick the length of their rope.

Then they would weave their individual strand into the collective whole in whatever manner they would like.

The organizers have done this same basic project without having people holding up the entire contraption, but by adding the human element they are able to move the structure around to different locations. I noticed that it also allowed passersby to come up and ask them about what was going on without having the awkwardness of approaching someone behind a desk. When explaining what was happening, Freestyle constantly used the word "art," emphasizing that passersby could themselves "make art." As a result, I've heard a constant chorus of kids shouting "I've made art!"

Another perk about the human element is that the organizers are inherently present and aware of what's happening, which means they are able to give encouragement to participants without the sense of looking over their shoulder (though, of course, they were). It also meant that, when kids would get overly violent with the project, the organizers
could give them a positive action of adding string as an alternative.
By the end of the evening, the people at each end of the project had literally been brought closer together through the tension in the weaving. You can also see here the project being paraded away. This mobility is something that the borough of Queens is putting to use. Freestyle arts is being sent to various neighborhoods that normally would not see official arts programs in order to interact with the people on the streets. In an area that's undergoing a lot of gentrification, this seems incredibly useful. Freestyle's projects have the ability to make random people interact on a physical and cooperative level with others to whom they normally wouldn't even speak.

The Freestyle guys let yours truly carry the cross of the web. Just holding one end is an inspiring experience as you can feel every movement against each strand of the weaving.


Landon said...

I'm trying to figure out the symbolism of you carrying the cross of art... Anyway, that was a great project that actually got me to say "that's awesome" out loud.

MF Connection said...

A lot like folkdancing in its power to get people to interact, with the emphasis on easy access more than on a coordinated artistic product. The knowledge of basic folkdance steps, as, say, in Scottish country dancing or contradance, can also encourage people who are away from home to jump into the rhythm of the dance and create a community, at least for an evening.