Union Square Showdown
Last Saturday I was walking through Union Square around 6:30pm, and came across a fantastic scene. In many ways it helped to clarify my own understanding of what true individual to individual public interaction was about, while juxtaposing it with the same scenario mediated by an advertising experience.
AArrow Spinners, a young outdoor advertising company that employs energetic youth and dance spectacle to attract attention for advertising purposes, was performing at the top of the stairs on the southern end of Union Square. At the same time a band called Brothers Moving, a young group of buskers, was performing less than 200 feet away. Each group was enthusiastically entertaining and gathering a crowd quickly.
Video was being shot, and photos taken, by a variety of individuals passing through. I stood back and observed the crowd, realizing this was a unique situation for me. Those who seemed to be using the space more transiently were immediately attracted to the AArrow Spinners, taking photos as they moved from one end of the square to the next. Those individuals that were waiting for someone, or meandering about with some time to kill, generally stopped and gathered around the entire event.
Over the course of about 30 minutes I watched this group slowly make its way to what became a large crowd of nearly a hundred people seated in front of the Brothers Moving. Tips were being tossed in a guitar case and cd's were being purchased, all while the crowd enjoyed a very personal (no mics or amps) musical experience. This migration left the AArrow Spinners with a much smaller crowd watching their antics.
I have always assumed that street art/performance/interaction, are valuable tools that use the public environment to bring together people who would often otherwise not interact. In doing so they create a cohesion amongst the public that emphatically demands an autonomous public use of the public environment. To reiterate the need for a public space of congregation for the exchange of public ideas, is to present a vision of a public forum where in the individual triumphs over the imposition of a few. It mimics the rules of the medieval carnival, where top down authority gives way to individual visions of society as a whole, even if those visions do not support the positions of authority.
These two street performances, which I must grant to both the AArrow Spinners and the Brothers Moving, were exercising their own individual visions for the public environment. Both of them were creating an entertaining environment filled with public interaction and reaction. Yet the performance which most captivated the audience was the one without something asked of the viewer.
Everytime I became lost in the dancing and acrobatics of the AArrow Spinners, I was wrenched out of the experience by the constant realization that this was all being done for my allegiance. This was most hieghtened when the dance action was stopped by a move made to attract my attention to the text on the sign. My interest was constantly asked to confirm my consumption of the product being advertised.
As I stood in front of the Brothers Moving, I quickly became aware that I was tapping my foot and found I had not thought about what I was watching so much as had been enjoying it for quite sometime. The experience was immersive and interactive. I found myself making eye contact and smiling at the kazoo player as he strut a small circle in front of the crowd. My interest here was left to my own choosing and I found it very satisfying.
My thoughts wandered around as I stood there watching the band play. I thought about how fun it must be to sing in front of such a large crowd of strangers. I thought about what kind of people would stop and listen to this kind of music and why the crowd did not fit my expectations. I thought about dinner. I thought about what a nice night it was. All the while those thoughts went on uninterrupted.
I left Union Square thinking. I left Union Square excited about the city. I left Union Square happy to be living around such an incredibly rich group of people and happy I had a moment to sit with them. I did not leaving thinking about AArrow Spinners and whatever advertisement they had wanted me to take notice of.