This past weekend the Conflux Festival kicked off another exciting series of site-specific workshops, performances, lectures, and installations that challenged New Yorkers to rethink our urban environment in a whole new way. A very powerful cerebral assistant emerged to help navigate this year’s exploration of psychogeography: the smartphone. Read on to learn more about this year’s exhibition of eco art, hobo chalk, and mixing up public space!
Not every event required the use of a smartphone, but their potential for play in urban space is so palpable that many projects relied on them. Ecoarttech created a series of Indeterminate Hikes especially for smartphones, with explicit instructions on when to pause and “take it all in” and breathe. The folks at Love Box created an app that guides folks on tours around sexy spots in the neighborhood. For The Path We Traveled, participants tracked their routes between Conflux installations. And at the Conflux Cafe, the festival headquarters, a screen displayed constantly updated tweets from both artists and participants.
For those of us who don’t yet have the internet in our pocket, analog alternatives abounded. A fellow named Ghostfrog gave a tour of Tompkins Square Park, where there once had been a thriving wetland, offering an alternative sensory journey. Liz Barry created a series of TreeKITS for visitors to interact with — and document — New York’s urban trees. Saturday was chock full of panels with Conflux veterans like Eve Mosher and Reverend Billy. And, full disclosure, this author had an analog street side project of her own.
On the other hand, you can’t get more low-tech than artist Betsy Davis’ project Urban Hobo. Depression-era hobos carved symbols into fence posts and doorways to give news and warnings to other travelers. The symbols indicated whether hosts were kind or cruel, whether food or a gun waited inside. At the Conflux Cafe, Urban Hobos could grab a piece of chalk and some guidelines, and then wander around, labeling local shopkeepers as “kind” or “knowledgeable.” They could mark a place as “environmental,” “beautiful,” or “magic.” They could tell you where the discotheque was, all weekend, without the benefit of yelp, twitter or facebook. But these codes will only last as long as the chalk does, whereas programming code, ahem, lives forever.
Who knows how technology will continue to shape our relationship with the environment? Whether that future is led by grown men in green spandex or lighting-fast status updates, Conflux, in its chaotic asphalted glory, will continue to question it.