Conflux 08
The New Beauty: 2008 Conflux Festival
Challenges Ideas of Public Space

CutUp installation, Center for Architecture photo: Jean Pike

by Jean Pike

Now in its fifth year, the Conflux Festival (Sept 11-14), included works by over 100 artists, geographers, scientists, writers, and architects who were selected from 400 submissions. Conflux is a freewheeling and often ephemeral series of events that are organized around the idea of psychogeography or, as Conflux Co-founder and Director Christina Ray calls it, “finding beauty, surprises and wonder in city spaces.” In opening remarks artist and festival curator Sal Randolph further fleshed this out by quoting Situationist Guy Debord who said “the new beauty can only be a beauty of situations”. Keynote speaker Chris Carlsson, author of Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today (, put it this way: “when we do these projects it’s the moment when we’re fully engaged…City life has so much that is so possible but is so stunted as far as what could be.”

The dynamic, and sometimes changing schedule coalesced around the festival website at and at the Conflux HQ, where lectures, meetings and projects took place, located this year at the Center for Architecture. While zones in the streets of New York were identified for events near the Center for Architecture, many were “off-piste” so to speak, such as those made by Artists Meeting, a group of fourteen artists who made nineteen pieces all over lower Manhattan (, or Tango Intervention, organized by artist Ro Lawrence, which gave participants a chance to tango on the Brooklyn Bridge, creating an exciting and different kind of social space for the walkway (

Tango dancers on Brooklyn Bridge photo: Paula K. Lazsus

In fact, over the weekend lower Manhattan was deluged by a wave of both digital and analog art events, many of which would have been barely perceptible to an unsuspecting public. In a piece called The Pick Up, artists Eleanor Eichenbaum Eubanks and Heather L. Johnson collected personal stories that took place at specific NYC locations, embroidered these memories on over twenty vintage handkerchiefs, and placed the handkerchiefs at the locations where the stories had originally taken place. The idea of making an introduction by way of picking up a handkerchief was resonant in the event. Members of the public are invited to search for these site-specific works and pick them up, using the website map as a guide, but the artists warn, for example, that two handkerchiefs left near the Chelsea Hotel disappeared within a matter of minutes of the drop, making after-the-fact searches potentially futile (

The Pick Up photo courtesy of H.L. Johnson/E.E. Eubanks

The anonymous British artists collective, CutUp, was in town and created two new works on downtown billboards at the corners of Grand and Wooster Streets, and West Broadway and Grand as well as an installation in the lobby of the Center for Architecture. Interested in reordering the urban and mediated landscape, their process for the lobby installation included removing a billboard surface whole, cutting it up into 1500 pieces, then reconfiguring to create a desolate landscape. The final image is then viewed through a television that is connected to a CCTV camera. (

Brian House, who works with database driven narratives and their intersection with public space and whose work has been incorporated into the curriculum at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, created an interactive video piece called Today is OK that could be viewed by anyone in the vicinity of the Center for Architecture with a cell phone that had Bluetooth capability.

The Federation of Students and Nominally or Unemployed Artists – $1k Giveaway, comprised of artists James Bachhuber, Angela Ferraiolo, Sam Freeman, Tamara Gubernat, Steve Lambert, Michael McCanne, Prescila Neri, Kahil Shkymba, Bob Smith, and Hal Weiss, set up a table over the weekend and gave out free artists grants to the public. Funds had been pooled together by the group from individual work activities leading up to the event. Anyone with a good idea for an art project could stand on line, describe it, put in an application and possibly receive instant funding. Soon local venders decided to join in and give things away as well.

1k Giveaway: receiving a grant application photo courtesy of Steve Lambert

1k Giveaway: a grant is awarded photo courtesy of Steve Lambert

Artist Lee Walton ( could be found on Saturday afternoon outside the Strand Bookstore where he was holding an “official” book-signing event. He had come prepared with a chair and a black Sharpie, was willing to sign anyone’s book and would stay as long as was necessary. Walton later gave a talk at the Center for Architecture where he explained how the Conflux Festival had influenced his work by introducing him to the notions of psychogeography. His work has since been commissioned by the likes of Art in General, Reykjavik Art Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. During his Sunday talk Walton passed out about twenty Starbucks Gift Cards explaining that only one of them had money on it which incited a roar of laughter from the audience and a comment from the crowd, “that’s brilliant!” Momentary problems with the internet connection during the talk prompted director and long time friend Christina Ray to call playfully from the back of the room, “That’s part of what we’re throwing at you! It’s called, Your Internet Has Been Dropped!

Maps and map-making played a big role at Conflux. In a panel discussion that centered around projects that were inspired by the book, Cartography of Protest and Social Change, graphic designer and activist John Emerson, explained that he uses maps to visualize and challenge power and to navigate abstract relationships. He presented the map he created in collaboration with artist/writer Trevor Paglen of the CIA’s secret international flights that transported hostages for rendition. The map was posted on a Santa Monica billboard. Questions such as, “who makes the maps?” and “how do we map ourselves?” were put forward by panel participants as a means of unraveling assumed power structures.

John Emerson presents his map of secret CIA flights
photo: Jean Pike

Artist Lucas Murgida uses the way in which he earns his living, in this case cabinet-making, to make performances and interventions that engage the public and “their notions of service, perception, liberation, and derivations of power”. For this year’s Conflux Festival, in a project called 9/10, referring to the phrase “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Lucas constructed a cabinet that he then left on a New York City street with himself inside. On Sunday morning, during one of the talks, he was taken. Lucas’ flickr site provided a real time record of his experiences and can be viewed at

Lucas Murgida in 9/10
images courtesy of Lucas Murgida

As Christina Ray now steps away from the Conflux Festival after five years as director, participants and supporters are waiting eagerly to hear what will become of the festival. Conflux is currently in its fifth year with no corporate or public funding, running almost entirely on a grassroots, volunteer basis with only some in-kind donations.

At a time when freedom of the use of “public” space within the City is questionable due to big real estate and corporate interests and homeland security, the projects in the Conflux Festival come as a breath of fresh air, nudging at the edges of the control and ownership of communications systems, of our own habitual activities and the way we operate within the City’s systems. In these events we can see what isn’t normally seen, do what isn’t normally done, and learn about our expectations. Then, as Chris Carlsson says, we can “repopulate the technosphere and reappropriate what we do and why we do it”, a very exciting proposition indeed.

Jean Pike is an artist|architect living and working in New York City. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Yale School of Architecture. Her work has been shown at Viridian Artists Gallery in NYC, The California College of Arts and Crafts, The University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning Gallery, Tao Gallery in Hong Kong and Gallery 61 at The New York Institute of Technology. Her work is about translating between various forms of representation (abstract drawing, video) and three or four dimensional work (sculpture, architecture and installation). Coming from a background in dance, it is often about the physical sense of the body in space and time and how that relates to psychological and emotional states.

#permalink posted by Jean Pike: 9/29/08 11:22:00 AM


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