Isolation. Police brutality. Violence. Quarantine. A global pandemic. Wildfires. COVID-19. These are some of the words that have been ringing through our ears since the start of 2020. It feels very much the meme of the dog in a hat, sitting in the kitchen while flames burn all around, saying “I’m fine.” But we are not fine. Very much not fine.
While the world is on fire both literally and figuratively, we have adapted. Adapted to Zoom University, six feet apart dinner dates, distanced learning, sourdough starter kits, really long baths, more therapy sessions... the list goes on. We know this year is unfortunately unforgettable, but how do we remember our unforgettable good parts of 2020? Our new found joys, inner power, and strength? Our communities that comfort us especially during these unprecedented times?
Lucky for us, we have artists whose storytelling reminds us that we are never alone. That who we are is enough.
Art In Odd Places 2021: NORMAL, a public and performance art festival, will be featured along 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC on May 14 - 16, 2021. Founded and directed by artist, curator, Libra, and educator Ed Woodham back in the '90s, the festival has been showcasing art since 2005, challenging the idea of public space and personal liberties through art.
This year’s theme, NORMAL, revolves around the idea of normalcy, one that has been challenged distantly by 2020. And it’s not the normal of a pre-COVID world. It is a normalcy that has allowed white supremacy, racism, police brutality, transphobia, and systemic violence to continue to be unchecked and unscathed in the United States. Sonya Renee Taylor's quote says it all: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was…”
The festival’s curator, NYC artist Furusho von Puttkammer (also a Libra) and her team have taken AiOP to a whole new level.
“When I was first approached by Ed to curate Art in Odd Places 2021, I honestly felt like there was no other choice but to make the theme of this year’s festival a critique on NORMAL,” said Furusho.
Furusho, “a queer, mixed race weirdo art kid from the cookie-cutter suburbs,” says, “I was bullied, harassed, and abused by my peers because I didn’t fit into what “normal” was supposed to mean.”
She adds, “When putting together the team for AiOP 2021, I wanted to make sure I was working with artists whose work was socially conscious and who could relate to me on an individual level.” When it comes to the idea of normal, Furusho calls bullshit. “NORMAL meant the American Dream. The pandemic has finally given a mainstream spotlight to how the American Dream is more like the American Myth. If you are poor, if you are a person of color, if you are queer, and especially if you are a mix of those things, the American Dream does not apply to you.
“The American Dream, basically the American Normal, is bullshit, and finally American mainstream audiences are paying attention. It would be very un-American to not capitalize on this opportunity.”
Ed Woodham supports and honors this vision – as one artist would do for the other. For Woodham, it’s about best case scenarios, autonomy, and trust. “I felt an urgency to reinvent Art in Odd Places (AiOP). AiOP is an ongoing experiment of what art in public space can be each annual iteration,” he said. “It’s an ongoing exercise of letting go. Furusho has worked with Art in Odd Places for two years prior so we began with a collection of experiences that gave us a working knowledge of understanding, trust, and a shared language. NORMAL is her vision.”
And with this vision, the festival expands. A growing legacy and tradition that artists come together on 14th Street to share, celebrate, and hold space for each other.
Yasmeen Abdallah, AiOP 2021’s Curatorial Assistant, sees art as necessary, especially right now. “I think perhaps now, more than ever, we need to find forms of connecting to one another during these isolating times. The fact that it’s outdoors and along the length of 14th Street makes it more feasible to create and experience art in a socially distanced way.” Abdallah loves that every part of it is free, from the application to the festival to the experience itself. The crux of the matter is about community engagement, public art, and accessibility. “14th Street is an especially significant area, with a dynamic history and importance, while also easily accessible for people geographically and ideologically.”
With "normal" in mind, Sonya Renee Taylor’s quote is all the more powerful. Known for her writing The Body Is Not an Apology book and founding the movement by the same name, AiOP found it more than fitting to feature her words as part of the festival.
“I noticed Sonya Renee Taylor’s quote being passed around the internet within the first few days of the NYC lockdown. The quote immediately struck a chord with me. Everything about Sonia Renee Taylor and her work aligns perfectly with the message we are trying to get across with this festival,” says Furusho.
Furusho saw that the American “normal” is deadly, from student loans to the inability to pay medical bills to the protruding violence of racism, police brutality, and homelessness. Furusho experienced this too, with the effects of marginalization and otherness, as she calls it. Regardless, Furusho knew she had the power and the privilege to support and create a space for marginalized communities. “Though my family isn’t rich, I come from a supportive, loving, and economically stable household," she says. "That support and stability has given me access to opportunities that others don’t have access to. I feel it’s my responsibility to help create spaces where marginalized peoples can come together and share their experiences in an open and accessible platform.”
For AiOP Curatorial Assistant Lorelle Pais, this quote resonates deeply. “As a fellow queer woman of color, I relate to the misportrayal of normalcy as something that seemingly anyone can achieve, but in reality is not obtainable by someone like me,” Lorelle says. “Normal never has been an option for some people. Normal is so relative that it cancels itself out: ten different people will have ten different answers to what normalcy is. I love the clarity of this sensation, this wake up call, this reminder that the American dream is only just a dream.”
One thing’s for sure: art plays an important role in our society. And it is something that can’t be done alone.
“Art is just philosophy and experience made visual, in my opinion. It gives us the invaluable opportunity to see the world through another’s perspective, which allows us to learn something new or find someone to relate to. Art in Odd Places acts as a platform to communicate those different perspectives to an audience who might otherwise not be interested,” says Furusho.
Woodham calls artists "the canaries in the mine" that warn of the dangers ahead. “Art is at the core of inquiry and understanding as we collectively confront the inequities, isms, and phobias that disregard and colonize peoples, cultures, and ideas,” he explains.
“Artists are cultural producers. It’s our job to understand the time we live in, and the contexts of words and actions,” says Abdallah. “I think that Art in Odd Places is a really thoughtful way to bring out many different perspectives, voices, ideas, and creative avenues of engagement to communicate in real time and space with people so that we can have these conversations, honestly and openly.”
Amanda Wu, AiOP's Social Media Manager and an artist who focuses on the climate crisis and social justice, describes artists and time as coexistent. “I think that artists mark a pinpoint in time. We showcase what is happening currently and challenge the viewers to truly see and notice what is happening.”
Art in Odd Places 2021: NORMAL festival is a celebration. Maybe not so much in the traditional way, but perhaps in the sense that communities never die. Traditions are constantly being reinvented and the resilience and joy of people, especially marginalized communities, is vital and need to be recognized. Always.
To fellow artists and those who dabble in the creatives (whatever that looks like) AiOP’s team offers some insight to combating burnout, fatigue, and overall hopelessness when it comes to being creative and surviving this world.
Furusho von Puttkammer: Let yourself simmer in the chaos for a while, then go on autopilot and get things done. Forget perfection, just do it. Believe in yourself enough to figure it out along the way. Look inwards, start small, forgive yourself, and forgive others. As environmental activist Shelbi Orme says, “You can not do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.”
Ed Woodham: Do not judge your strange behavior and your berserk newfound daily patterns based on the Pre-Pandemic archaic modalities. Those were put in place by the ‘homogenized cis heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy’ to restrict self-realization in order to block access to personal power(s). So, no wonder we are uncomfortable, at odds with what to do and who we are – as these obsolete systems and imposed mores FINALLY crumble into dust. It’s okay to do nothing, not knowing what to do – as it’s a reasonable response in the initial stages of reinventing ourselves.
Yasmeen Abdallah: Release that stress however you can. Try not to suppress it, because that’s toxic. Slow down, take it in, feel those awful feelings, then turn that negative energy into something cathartic that will free you of it. I really believe that we have to practice what we preach. Keep protesting, creating political art, reading, learning, growing, and fighting oppression.
Lorelle Pais: Pushing through burnout is painful, but it gives life to so many powerful ideas, a lot like a phoenix cycle of burning and rising from ashes. The advice I would give is to allow time for the cycle to flow naturally, to let yourself rest and let the ash settle. There is no time, so why worry about time?
Amanda Wu: I also think it is important to take the time to do nothing, we don’t need to be constantly creating. Though sometimes if I want to make something but I’m not sure what I just sit in front of some paper and materials and create anything. It doesn’t have to be good, it could just be a doodle. Not every piece needs to be a masterpiece, it could just be something pretty that you like so you get some creative expression out. Your voice matters, your art matters, even if it is to just one other person.
With 2020 coming into a close (three months left!), art and community solidarity is what is keeping us present and positive during this unprecedented times. “Now, more than ever, it’s important for us as artists to continue to share our perspectives on the state of America,” says Furusho.
AiOP 2021: NORMAL will be live May 14 -16, 2021 on14th Street in Manhattan, NYC. Applications are open July 24 – December 1 at 11:59 PM EST. On December 21, applicants will be notified of their decision.
To connect more, you can visit AIOP's Instagram @artinoddplaces and/or website www.artinoddplaces.org.
AiOP is looking for volunteers to help out during the festival! Please contact them via email or Instagram.
To donate to the artists for their amazing work, find them on Venmo: @Furusho-vonPuttkammer, @EdWoodham, @Yasmeen-Abdallah, and @Amanda-Wu-6.
Top photo courtesy of Ricardo von Puttkammer
Second photo courtesy of AIOP Team
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