The Conflux Festival, an annual presentation of installations and live performances designed to make you think about how urban spaces affect all aspects of our lives, occurred this weekend over in New York City, specifically in its open, public spaces. It is described as a “festival of psycho-geography, or the study of the effects of geographic environment on behavior, that evolved into more of an art and technology fest, fusing urban public spaces with exploration and experimentation” by the director of the event. With the myriad of wild and wacky demonstrations exhibited, the festival showed how participatory art can take hold of any group of people, grab their interest, and transform their ideas into creative substance.
An example of such a demonstration was the Urban Speaker, a smartphone in the middle of an NYC park, with its sounds projected onto a loudspeaker, inviting passersby to call its number with a sign attached above. It allowed anyone with the urge to say something, anything, to the world around them to do so, transmitting and transforming their message into something bigger. However, it was not just the people who were walking by that day that could call in; pictures of the sign went up on blogs and news sites around the globe, essentially turning this one exhibition into a connection to the phone-enabled world. Such an idea, popularized by the attention the festival draws, received more than its fair share of calls which challenged the idea that one has to limit themselves when talking in public.
A demonstration like the Urban Speaker is critical when we decide to reflect on the self-imposed limitations of our daily lives. Why can’t we speak out and say what’s on our minds, even in public? Are we afraid other people will hear, or worse, think differently? Providing a way to challenge these norms is one of the purposes of the many draws of the Conflux Festival.
“Psychogeographic Drift” was another idea that came out of the fair. It involved temporary signs that were drawn, pasted, or otherwise added onto the city’s landscape, inviting people who followed them on a trail off the beaten path. The trails wandered along the city, with the signs being something one would have to keep an eye out for, leading to sight-seeing of a different sort. It brought the excitement and adventure of roaming around a city back, in an urban society wired to get only to their destination and back, without observing all that is around them.
The festival projects more than just interesting ideas for people to see; it provokes new way of thinking and learning about the space around us. The gathering and collaboration of many artists on one large reflection of this space makes for insights that will be picked up by more than just the art critic or the occasional wandering person; it is an event that draws people in and never lets them go.