Humanizing Inhabitants of Urbanspaces

Love Night at BMW Guggenheim Lab in NYC

Overcast would not hamper the glowing large tent filled with artists and curious participants last evening for Love Night by Houston and 2nd Avenue.  Walking past Roberta’s stand, one moves along the iron gates into an encased, canvassed hanger that has an eye catching 20+ foot screen of cascading images.

Close to the 7p start time, directions and snippets of the science behind mandated 8 hugs per Professor Paul Zak of Claremont University are disclosed.  Paper printed maps described each station.  This public performance driven exhibition took the purposefully quotidian near zero private space in subways, on sidewalks, and elevators into an interactive challenge.  Can jaded New Yorkers confront close proximity, welcome hugs from strangers, and be comfortable?  Or will the Darwinian need for protection displayed by mutual distrust reign supreme?

Particularly in New York, citizens are ingrained with knowledge of avoiding prolonged eye contact or even giving the hint of inviting conversations.  Usually, strangers who launch into a full scale chat are half-mad or tourists believing that somehow they can connect with those of the Big Apple.  It is not due to New Yorkers being heartless; New Yorkers are wary, rightly so.  With high densities of populations, probability dictates that there will be lunatics and unsavory types in the mix (probably sitting beside you on the A train).

Brooklyn based artist Ryan Brennan tapped into notions of gazes and immediacy with Bubble Bursting.  Experimental psychologist Colin Ellard encouraged participants to wear a body temperature device to track internal responses during this encounter.  One person approaches another from an opposite side.  They meet at the red central line.  Instructions dictate that nervousness be communicated by that person closing their eyes to signal this discomfort.  Ryan adapted an acting exercise to exploit our thresholds of false security.  Initially, when you are looking into an unknown person’s eyes, your first moments are spent noticing features, but then, eeriness develops.  Intimacy takes shape as both people reflect in one another’s vision.  Someone breaks that energy by speaking or moving away first.  Several gaming folks used this as a staring contest, yet that childhood game becomes supplanted beyond the 90 second mark.  Brennan considered that alterations to each sides’ approach and when to initiate locked eyes could be varied for even more socially stimulating experiments of the same model.  At the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s end, a German woman’s extreme unease demonstrated by her charted body fluxes confirmed the cultural trends that Germans require the most personal space.

Brennan\’s Bubble Bursting. Earlier rendition.

Another more subtle sharing moment occurred at Hopes/Fears.  Kio Stark nurtured that anonymous impetus of people to broadcast their deepest worries without asserting authorship.  People inserted the written placards into a closed shoebox where an art helper wrote out the fears and hopes for incorporation into a PowerPoint slide show.  Standing to read the personal demons and wishes, thematic repetition occurred.  Many expressed desires for true love.  Several harked about success and balance.  Often the hope segments cast themselves closely as fear statements.  Whether directionally motivated by the artist, majority of sentiments pointed to a checked optimism splashed with much anxiety.

Why hugs?  Oxytocin.  Professor Zak promoted hugs with vigor (I was not immune to his zealous hug distribution).  According to his introductory statements, hugs provide senses of belonging and joy for 20 minutes.  He assigned 8 hugs to all audience members before the night concluded.  It is a simple gesture, but resulting in release of oxytocin essential for mammalian bonding.  Altruism is sparked because trust and generosity form.  Professor Zak’s request allowed for more open people to embrace other art pieces such as Emotional Maps, Human Warmth and Public Space, and Secret Exercises with more openness.

Festivities ended close to 9p as stated in all literature; however, the effects of the evening kept merriment until last call.  Employing a basic premise, these organizers and artists facilitated delightful, pleasant experiences for all those who dared to partake.

(In fact, I lost my voice from all the socializing with random people – a silencing which rarely happens.)

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