The Smallest Festival

Video, no sound.
33’33 min.
Please watch full screen.

Gamechanger (long version)
This quantum art video explores a theory of the nature of time-travel through a wormhole. Time dilation connects differently inside and outside of the wormhole. The theory posits that if synchronized clocks at either end of the wormhole remain harmonized – as witnessed by an observer passing through it – time-travel is possible.


Red String Theory
Underdeveloped and untested, Red String Theory (RST) is a phenomena that is unexplainable. Poetic displays of crimson jute are minimalist manifestations that represent other dimensional occurrences beyond the comprehensible. This red string is a simple model of the complex formula to illustrate “being stuck” in a third dimension while parallel realities exist simultaneously connected by the particles of a single dimension.

Babel Masks

Mask-to-go (2020)
Clear plastic food containers, plastic tubing, and glue. 12Wx9Hx14D (inches).














Featured on The Babel Masks


I’m doing just fine – hanging in there. I had a well-stocked bunker before everything shut down –  so all good on that front. But as we all know (or so I imagine we do) – it’s strange. But as I ponder this shift, I recall that I dreamt of these times and knew somehow that I’d see this happen.

I’ve stopped everything – to do nothing – to watch deeply and observe. Hours and hours after hours into days looking to see what is happening. I’ve watched the fear come into New York City like a slow creeping fog easing in diabolically surrounding my city and the people who are afraid of what is going to happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And this great unknown – has become a (global) collective consciousness of a palpable energy of fear. And we are at her mercy.

There’s an unspoken somberness amongst us. And I watch the slow incremental shift in us as a collective nightmare as we flex into this new change in our future world. And lately, I’m coming out of the weeds – an old restaurant term that seems more appropriate now than ever. The ‘city that never sleeps’, slept. And is gradually waking up. Places are starting to open: street activity, restaurants with outside dining, and the MET. Still, lots of deliveries to my apartment. Over time, I’ve saved to-go containers, and made this face mask (shield) to use as I venture out into the unknown.


Ed Woodham is a conceptual artist investigating quantum physics, the philosophy, the Zen, the mathematics, the poetry, the visual, the performance, and the absurdity of nothing. He has been active in community art, education, and civic interventions across media and culture for over thirty-five years.

A visual and performance artist, puppeteer, and curator, Woodham employs humor, irony, subtle detournement, and a striking visual style in order to encourage greater consideration of — and provoke deeper critical engagement with — the urban environment.

The Babel Masks features one artist per week to spotlight through the run of the show, to May 5, 2021. To see the current featured artist, go to the Featured Artist page.

After their feature space is done, the artist’s feature interview will be archived in their individual gallery page. Below is Ed Woodham, our featured artist from November 15-21, 2020.

Ed Woodham (Photo by Cherry Corr)

Ed Woodham (Photo by Cherry Corr)

Numb & Number , Manly / Sydney - Australia, 2013. (Performers Melanie Eden. Shelley Woodrow, Ed Woodham) Photo by Rory Golden.

Numb & Number, Manly / Sydney – Australia, 2013. (Performers Melanie Eden. Shelley Woodrow, Ed Woodham) Photo by Rory Golden.

The Keepers , Gowanus / Brooklyn - New York, 2016 (Performers: Toby Bilowitz, Rachel Cohen, Remi Harris, Angela Muriel, and Carol Serano. Photo by Masahito Ono)

The Keepers, Gowanus / Brooklyn – New York, 2016 (Performers: Toby Bilowitz, Rachel Cohen, Remi Harris, Angela Muriel, and Carol Serano. Photo by Masahito Ono)

Absurdity Emergency , McDowell Colony Amphitheater/Peterborough -New Hampshire, 2019 (Performers: Elizabeth Condon, Bruce Crownwell, Yewen Dong, Alex Espinoza, Emma Goldman, Samantha Johns, Ryan Ludwig, Francesca Mari, Terry O’Reily, and Mark Shepard. Costumes/ props design and photo by Ed Woodham)

Absurdity Emergency, McDowell Colony Amphitheater/Peterborough -New Hampshire, 2019 (Performers: Elizabeth Condon, Bruce Crownwell, Yewen Dong, Alex Espinoza, Emma Goldman, Samantha Johns, Ryan Ludwig, Francesca Mari, Terry O’Reily, and Mark Shepard. Costumes/ props design and photo by Ed Woodham)

Unleashed , Drake Family Lakehouse Pool / Locust Grove – Georgia, 2016 (Photo by Donna Drake)

Unleashed, Drake Family Lakehouse Pool / Locust Grove – Georgia, 2016 (Photo by Donna Drake)

Total Eclipse of the Sun (TEOTS) , Hambidge Arts Center/Rabun Gap - Ga, 2017 (Costume design by Ed Woodham, Performers: Christine Jason, Susan Meyers, Margaret Patterson, Ed Woodham. Photo by Allison Roberts)

Total Eclipse of the Sun (TEOTS), Hambidge Arts Center/Rabun Gap – Ga, 2017 (Costume design by Ed Woodham, Performers: Christine Jason, Susan Meyers, Margaret Patterson, Ed Woodham. Photo by Allison Roberts)

Total Eclipse of the Sun (TEOTS) , Hambidge Arts Center/Rabun Gap - Ga, 2017 (Costume design and performer Ed Woodham. Photo by Kate Medley.)

Total Eclipse of the Sun (TEOTS), Hambidge Arts Center/Rabun Gap – Ga, 2017 (Costume design and performer Ed Woodham. Photo by Kate Medley.)

Useful Tables (The Table of Contents), Brooklyn – New York, 2001 (Puppeteers: Hjordis-Linn Blanford, Carrol Binion, Erin Orr, and Lake Simmons. Photo by Richard Termine).

Useful Tables (The Table of Contents), Brooklyn – New York, 2001 (Puppeteers: Hjordis-Linn Blanford, Carrol Binion, Erin Orr, and Lake Simmons. Photo by Richard Termine).

Big Little Match Girl , New York City - New York, 2014 (Costume designed by Gretchen Vitamvas. Photo by Enrique Ortiz and Virginia Sowell)

Big Little Match Girl, New York City – New York, 2014 (Costume designed by Gretchen Vitamvas. Photo by Enrique Ortiz and Virginia Sowell)


From November 15 – 21, The Babel Masks’ featured artist Ed Woodham, a conceptual artist investigating quantum physics, the philosophy, the Zen, the mathematics, the poetry, the visual, the performance, and the absurdity of nothing. He has been active in community art, education, and civic interventions across media and culture for over thirty-five years.

A visual and performance artist, puppeteer, and curator, Woodham employs humor, irony, subtle detournement, and a striking visual style in order to encourage greater consideration of — and provoke deeper critical engagement with — the urban environment.


1) You were artist in Residence at UVA Charlottesville in 2018, the year after the “Unite the Right” march that took place there. Did that inflect or impact the work you did there? If so, how?

I was hired as the University of Virginia/Charlottesville Arts Board artist-in-residence in May 2017 for the following school year September 2017 until May 2018. I happened to be visiting Havana, Cuba and saw the Charlottesville white terrorists’ march on August 12 at my hotel lobby television tuned to CNN. At that moment I fully realized my work would take on a completely different trajectory. Normally I’d have a specific agenda or a theme for a site that I’d introduce at the beginning of a residency after research, but following my time in Macon, Georgia in 2016 and then soon after in Charlottesville, it became apparent that I needed to change my methodology to implement a long period of deep listening for what the community of Charlottesville needed at this specific time in their history.

With the world watching, the project focus became the community’s voice to reframe how the press and media had presented the city. Also, I felt it was a responsibility to locate, acknowledge, and celebrate the local social practice artists – who may not be labeled as such but were performing the exact same work that institutions defined as social engagement – for decades in their community.

2. In 2013 in Sydney, you created a performance “Numb & Number” which you say on your website was “waking up the subconscious of viewers through actions of absurdity” in the spirit of social change. We are at a caustic place as a society and – in more ways than one – at a tipping point of our civilization. Absurdity was a potent protest tool in the 1960s and 1970s. How do you blur the line between the artist and the activist, and how might absurdity as political statement and performance affect public perception in such a way as to bring about change?

I am an artist who at times in my practice attempts to rupture the status quo – which embodies elements of activism and art with considerations of site, aesthetics, form, and function. I believe that artists can be vital in communicating ideas of change for long overdue gender, sexual, racial, economic, environmental equality and justice. Absurdity is an aesthetic choice that reflects my politics. I have not been able to make sense of the incomprehensible divisions in the U.S. and internationally. I’m aware that these divisions are fed copious amounts of ridiculous false information via press and social media platforms – designed specifically to bolster their respective viewpoints. It’s open fertile ground for absurdity in all its forms, where nothing seems to make sense except the absurd. Numb and Number morphed into an ongoing work that continues to address environmental injustice called The Keepers. Also, a work I’m developing currently is the public performance squad Absurdity Emergency which I began in the autumn of 2019 before the pandemic.

3. You founded Art in Odd Places (AiOP) in New York to take advantage of derelict spaces and recontextualize them as places of spontaneous creativity and as way-points where artists could land and gather strength and support. Over time, AiOP developed on a trajectory that took it all over the world, at one point representing the United States Pavilion at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2012. Can you talk about some of the inflection points of that development and some of the catalyzing events and people that moved it forward? What is the story of the evolution of AiOP?

Art in Odd Places is an ongoing experiment created annually in NYC by a fresh collective of artists, curators, administrators, volunteers, and audience since 2005. AiOP was founded to challenge the rules regulating our civic gathering areas and to acknowledge the importance of public space as an essential thread in the fabric of our democracy. Public space is supposed to be our space.  Historically, it’s where we gather to discuss and fuel change regardless of our social economic status, our gender identity, age, culture, religion, or beliefs.  It’s imperative to acknowledge that the land occupied in public and private spaces is stolen land, colonized by genocide and forced removal.

Art in Odd Places 2021: NORMAL curated by Furusho von Puttkammer, along 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River will present artists from diverse backgrounds who seek to critique the mythos of the American Dream and the history of American politics. The festival will present visual installations and performances along the entire 2.2-mile length of 14th Street from May 14-16 following social distance guidelines.
Application deadline: December 1, 2020, 11:59 PM EST.

4) In your piece “Unleashed” in 2016, you created a performance in Georgia to mark the demise of the Mill Hill Artist’s residency. Can you talk more about the substance of the ritual and how you decided to use the semiotics of the E-collar in different settings as a focal point?

There is quite a history behind the performance piece Unleashed. In July 2016, I was selected for the inaugural Mill Hill Artist Residency in Macon, Georgia. Initially, it seemed a good fit: a community project with an altruistic intent – which I researched before the application process. I’d never spent any time in Macon but had grown up in nearby McDonough, and studied for two years in nearby Cochran. It was hugely exciting to return to Georgia to develop a social practice project whose intent was to identify and connect the community’s voice in the Ft. Hill section of Macon.

The Mill Hill Project in Ft. Hill, led by the Macon Arts Alliance, was funded in part by NEA and The Knight Foundation. When the time came for me and the other resident, Chicago artist Samantha Hill, to begin our process of inquiry and investigation, Macon Arts Alliance offered a peculiar interference, providing us with a script intended – so it seemed – to smooth the way for development, construction, and architectural firms to mow through the historically black East Macon community to create an “arts village” over a well-established community already living and working there. Our inquiries revealed that some of the MAA board members were in fact people connected with those very architecture, construction, and development firms, and all of them were white.

Samantha and I started to ask questions about this situation. Our residencies were abruptly terminated and our assigned housing revoked – the reason being given that we had not fulfilled our contractual obligations. Neither the NEA nor the Knight Foundation interceded. However, we had our allies – local artist Charvis Harrell, and other Macon artists, archivists, social workers, and historians. After we were fired – the majority of local, regional, and national art press were contentious and offered few facts about the development scheme at Mill Hill, making the situation even more painful for us. But later that year writer Maya Mackrandilal’s powerful essay, The Impossibility of Art as well as her interview with us in Sixty Inches From Center gave justification to our experiences and our discoveries.

The inherent problems of firms enacting gentrification plans that damage or destroy old (often historically or predominately black) neighborhoods naturally invite examination of issues around race, privilege and power, provoking interrogation of the way outsiders can arbitrarily determine outcomes for long-established communities and their artistic heritage. During the residency, we struggled with these issues, very painfully, in real time.The experience was very traumatic for us on many levels, and out of that lived experience grew more work, including Unleashed.

The E-collar ritual of Unleashed is a performance work referencing Charvis Harrel’s and Samantha Hill’s respective trauma in Macon as they shared it with me in trust. As I bear witness to the breadth of their pain, the E-collar enforces the physical, historical and emotional limitations inherent in my privilege as a white man. The collar curtails my impulse to “lick my wounds” and requires me to reflect without indulgent self-distraction, even as my understanding of Black generational trauma from systemic racism is finite.

I also created Unleashed to maintain the reverence I feel and the honor I wanted to offer for my sense of the sacredness of the physical land of Georgia. I’d been born and bred there, and had returned in the years 1987-1997 to create the Atlanta multidisciplinary arts center, 800 East. I didn’t want the Mill Hill experience to stain my love for home. In 2017 I was fortunate to be chosen as an artist in residence at Hambidge Arts Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia during the total eclipse of the sun to create the work of the same name TEOTS.

5) What do you see as the role of the artist in a time like COVID, and what adaptations might performers and audiences of all sorts take to continue performing and witnessing? What early adaptations have you seen and been a part of manifesting?

I believe art lives at the intersection of inquiry and understanding, forming the foundation to build a more perceptive and just world. Art offers radical opportunities to change the way we see the ourselves. Now is an important time to reframe our intertwined individual and collective stories, our surroundings, our patterns and our lives.

I’ll repeat when asked about ‘artists at this time’ in a recent interview in BUST Magazine: “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 […] 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”.

6) Can you talk about your piece Useful Tables? What is its core concept?

Useful Tables was about my ongoing work on the observation and collection of data concerning serendipity.  I began Useful Tables in 1999 following threads from searches on my new lime iMac G3 computer.  Using a dial up modem, I’d browse search engines like Ask Jeeves, Lycos, or MSN for searches on ‘tables’. For instance, I came across a publication called Grey Round Table which was a zine published in Northern California for grey parrot enthusiasts in the regional area. The scene Table Manners was created for four puppeteers who owned grey parrots (puppets) for a gathering one fine day as table manners were projected on the screen behind them.  Other useful tables were table of contents, an operating table, tableware, periodic table, navigational tables, and multiplication tables.

Useful Tables first began as a commission by DreamWorks Puppetry for the New York City Village Halloween Parade. I created a 10 foot wooden table walked by a puppeteer on each leg for twenty-three blocks up Sixth Avenue. Later I was able to remount the concept of an animated dancing table that become a puppet stage along with massive background projections at St. Ann’s Warehouse for Labapalooza.

7) “Big Little Match Girl” like many of your performance works, is highly theatrical. This work is listed as ongoing since 2013 and pays homage to those who died in the earliest wave of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Can you unpack the signs and imagery of the performance? How is the match girl connected to these many people who died, or what makes her the focal point of the work? What story is she bringing present-day New Yorkers about AIDS and victims of 30 and 40 years ago, and what is the intent? What is important about making this an ongoing piece?

Big Little Match Girl (BLMG) is an ongoing homage to a dear friend, Michael Hebert aka Michael X, who always imagined creating this work on the snowy streets of Manhattan. Sadly, he died of AIDS in 1994.

The story of Little Match Girl relates to the tragedy losing thousands of people during the AIDS pandemic – many of whom were friends. Only a few of my friends survived to reminisce about the experiences of the 1980s in NYC from the piers, to the clubs, to the ballrooms, to the fashion, the music, the graffiti, the sexual liberation.

8) Connecting to the AIDS epidemic, are there things those of us old enough to remember have gathered that affects how we relate to the present crisis? Are we mentors, or cassandras, or the forgotten fogeys, or the acolytes to our ancestors? Are we suitable demon guides through the hells of the present? What does the piece offer those too young to remember the epidemic?

One of the many conflicts presented in Big Little Match Girl is the importance to be charitable to those less fortunate, which regrettably was not the case during the AIDS epidemic. The loss of humanity illustrated in BLMG by the bitter cold, the obvious fact that no one cares for her, nor is anyone buying matches – Big Little Match Girl holds onto the spirit of her grandmother’s love who is no longer alive.  She debates whether or not to waste a simple match for a tiny bit of comfort because she’s been devalued – shamed for being poor and for being herself. Similarly, the LGBTQIAPK community during the AIDS epidemic were shamed, treated as lepers, pushed aside as though we were preordained to die this horrible death because of our sexual identity. It is an unforgettable despicable time in history that is intensely personal.  I will always remember what it did to the spirit of my brothers whom I watched slide into the abyss, made to feel unworthy of respect, dignity, and life – everyone’s birthright.

This work presents the tragedy ignoring suffering and injustice thinking of our own well-being. BLMG is ongoing and important because willful ignorance continues with numerous tragic examples.  From Hurricane Katrina, to the migrant families at the immigration detention centers at U.S. southern border, to state-sanctioned police murder and brutality of people of color, to white nationalist terrorism,  to the COVID-19 pandemic as it attacks people of color in greater numbers, there has been little attempt to seek solutions.

9) How are you sustaining your practice in the midst of shutdown and in the situation of large numbers of people leaving the city for economic or health reasons? Has this altered your practice?

The shutdown has drastically altered my life including my practice. At the time of the NYC mandatory stay-at-home order, I was immediately furloughed and national projects were canceled. I’m still currently unemployed, however my NY State unemployment insurance has run out– I’m unable to collect unemployment moving forward.  Plus there is no stimulus or pandemic funding for financial assistance at this time.

I don’t have any clear answer to sustaining my practice in NYC. I’m quickly accessing my capabilities and the current opportunities to reinvent my practice and livelihood. It is a struggle to maintain residence in a city that has been in a slow pre-COVID process of eliminating support for creatives to continue working, experimenting, rebelling, hoping, and simply living here.

10) What advice would you have for a beginning artist who is getting their career under way in New York? What do you wish people had shared with you when you were getting started?

Don’t wait to be recognized by institutions, press, or academia. Don’t wait for grants or money or brick and mortar spaces. Don’t wait because you think you need something you don’t have. You have everything that you need already:  your ideas, chutzpah, tenacity, and consistency. Keep doing it over and over and over again until it takes root. If you’re rooted in your own sustained practice and staying true to your process, you will naturally standout.  Be discriminating where you place your energy and ideas.  Always have an agreement or a contract – even with friends as it honors your friendship. Like in Macon, arts organizations supported by major funders, real estate developers, and bad actors will exploit your concepts and talent for their own agendas.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance to cultivate and protect your independence. Be fiercely autonomous so you don’t have to answer to anyone who wants to wield control, power, or censorship over vital new ideas. That independence is the life-force where art has its essential meaning with the strength and imagination to create change.

Founding Stories Oral Histories of Grassroots Atlanta

By Sarah Higgins

“Founding Stories: Oral Histories of Grassroots Atlanta” was a decade-by-decade series of panel discussions exploring the founding stories of a selection of Atlanta’s DIY, grassroots, and artist-run spaces.

In five panels held during the weekend of October 17-18, founders of some of Atlanta’s most beloved spaces spoke about how these organizations came into existence. Answering questions such as: What were the conditions that led to the founding of the space/project/organization? What was happening in Atlanta at that time? What goals did you set out to accomplish, and did you feel those goals were met? What can the current field of artist-run initiatives learn from this history?

Each talk was moderated by a member of the community who experienced the initiative’s activities first-hand, and in several cases, who operated/participated in similar concurrent projects.

In this dossier, you can find closed-captioned videos of each panel and archival photographs of the featured spaces. Full transcripts will be made available in the coming weeks.

After the final panel, which featured moderator Dr. Candy Tate and panelists Chip Simone and Michael Lomax discussing the Atlanta art scene of the 1970s, Art Papers Editor + Artistic Director Sarah Higgins gave closing remarks. In her final comments, Higgins considered and synthesized several main ideas that emerged over the two day symposium. We have transcribed her closing remarks—edited for clarity—and published them below.


I’ve appeared here at the end to primarily thank you: Michael, Chip, and Candy. This final panel has been monumental—I feel edified and energized. It’s been a significant ending to what have all been interesting and insightful panels. I’m happy that we chose to go back in time because we’ve arrived at such a wealth of perspective by ending here. We’ve also arrived at our own beginning—the destination of our own birth, as Art Papers is also a child of the 70s—founded in 1977—so we’re on this panel in spirit. I want to offer just a few closing thoughts in response to the overall conversation that’s been happening.

First, I want to acknowledge that this series has only been a selection of the many grassroots, artist-run, and DIY spaces that have existed and enriched Atlanta’s art community over the years. We knew that it would have to be a sampling, limited by our own time here with an audience, as well as by the availability and time of others. Founding Stories has been a year and a half in the making, and it was derailed a bit by the challenges of 2020. We’re very grateful for all of you who decided to brave a Zoom symposium, whether on the panels or in the audience.

I want to highlight a few ideas that emerged across the five conversations, in the hopes of synthesizing a few things. One phrase that caught my ear early on was “beautiful chaos,” which Rachel Pomberg first spoke about in reference to Eyedrum’s early times, and it was echoed by Jeff Mather in speaking about The Mattress Factory Group. This phrase encapsulates how it can feel for a small group of people to take on a project that is bigger than themselves, a bit unwieldy, or that becomes so over time, while also taking on the expectations of others, and the pressures of sustainability. Beautiful chaos seems to capture the spirit of many of these projects.

Another notion that came up was risk. The risk that folks took to start something new, to put themselves out there for their community, and even more crucially, to create opportunities for others to take risks. This gesture has been central to how meaningful and valuable many of these spaces and projects have been to the community over the years.

Space was also a concept that appeared throughout the conversations. Space came up as an opportunity, a prompt, an investigation, and maybe most crucially as a fraught resource, one that is wrapped up in real estate, economics, and with city planning and development. We discussed the difficulty that artists feel in taking opportunities for access to space when they know that what they do in that space can be mobilized towards gentrification, towards displacement, while grappling with the reality that they have few opportunities outside of such times and places to occupy and use space. Those questions—of space as a resource that can lead to complicity with destructive forces after the fact—recurred and are very salient for our moment.

We touched on the question of sustainability. How do we enable these kinds of spaces to continue, and to grow? Why can’t we always keep them? Why don’t we have them all, still here with us? These sustainability questions had a lot of different answers, but one thing that became apparent was that sometimes things run their course. Sometimes institutionalizing, or becoming a more formal institution, would mean losing something at the core of what these spaces embody, leading to issues around loss of independence. The independence to be unafraid, to take those risks, to not be beholden to a funder or to a structure.

Meredith Kooi reprised Alice Lovelace’s wonderful observation from the 1980s panel, that we do these things in service to our communities. A community that, really centrally, people repeatedly observed as being uniquely Atlanta, with its own set of distinctive particularities. Many spaces addressed community from a desire to create a place to break down the either racially or economically segregated nature of larger institutional spaces by bringing people together across racial and disciplinary divides, and undoing those spaces of separation that they saw in the larger institutional space of Atlanta. Many did so successfully.

Finally, we witnessed the importance of collaboration, especially across disciplines and spaces that are perhaps more siloed in today’s communities. In each panel—even the 2010s—collaboration across disciplines was central to at least one, but usually more than one of the spaces. Going to Arts Exchange, Café Bizzoso, or Little Beirut in the 80s, and Eyedrum in the 90s, was an inherently interdisciplinary experience. These were spaces of music, writing, performance, visual arts in an exhibition-making sense, and in a community-engaged, educational sense. Apache Café in the 2000s is a wonderful example of a wholistic space of poetry, writing, visual art, music—and similarly, The Bakery in the 2010s is a great case-study in interdisciplinary DIY spaces. We heard the impression that these things have become more fractured—that they now occupy their own enclosed spaces—but we also heard proof that these cross-disciplinary collaborations do continue to exist, and a thread … connected … all of them, today and yesterday.

I want to again thank our panelists—on this panel, and on all of those that went before. To our moderators, who are incredibly engaged and did a wonderful job, and to Meredith Kooi, who kicked this entire series off through her own explorations of people’s most beloved DIY and grassroots spaces, and for shepherding this project through to completion.

BOMB Magazine: NYC’s Art In Odd Places: NORMAL Festival Showcases The Strangeness Of 2020

Photo courtesy of Ricardo von Puttkammer

By Natalie Valencia

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.

AIOP Group shot 87c84 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 AbdallahAiOP 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 WuAiOP‘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
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

Common Ground’s Field Histories: The Immensity of Nuance

IMAGE: 800 East Family photo by Ray Herbert aka Panorama Ray, Atlanta; April 1995

Featured on Common Ground 
By Ed Woodham

Because libraries have been a refuge for me since childhood, I’ve always thought that if I hadn’t become an artist I would have been a librarian. Following this interest, I’ve become captivated by archives, how they represent and misrepresent us at a marked period. Regardless of their size, archives often fail to include the nuances of our diversity. Or, more egregiously, these annals of time omit nuances as if they didn’t exist. During a recent residency at the MacDowell Colony, for example, I had an opportunity to meet an artist who was exploring the Smithsonian archives. She was searching this vast, seemingly absolute, collection for archival records for specific established female artists whom she greatly admired — yet documentation of their practice was nowhere to be found.

It is here, in the continuum of significance and nuance that my own chronicles began. In the late ’80s, I watched the East Village arts scene, which included many of my friends, flourish then fizzle because of the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis. I had to get out, I decided, and try to save what was left of me and my will power. So, in 1988 after eight years of sexual and creative sanctuary, I fled New York City, and returned to my hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. But during my time in New York, where I had been a manager at the storied Life Café on Avenue B and a regular at the Pyramid Club, Danceteria, The Mudd Club, AREA, Paradise Garage, and the Bronx Ballroom scene, I had watched independent arts spaces wiggle to life from the cracks in the concrete: Club 57, ABC No Rio, Performance Space 122, 8 BC, LaMaMa Theater, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, Mabou Mines, CBGBs, and so many more. I took this inspiration to Atlanta just as RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Larry Tee, Lahoma Van Zandt, Flloyd, and others were relocating to New York. Soon, they would dominate the nightlife scene.

From 1990 to 1997, a varied collective of multidisciplinary artists — myself included — created 800 East, a warehouse performance and exhibition space with accompanying studios named after its address, in downtown Atlanta. This was before developers started the now prevalent gentrification of downtown areas, at a time when cities across the United States were confronting the crack epidemic and its effect on urban communities. It was also the era when artists could find affordable living and studio spaces without seeming like a potential threat or an omen of displacement to the communities who had lived there for generations.

800 East made its mark during this time of artistic equality. 800 East’s gallery was a cinderblock warehouse that was cold in the winter (heated by a DIY steel-drum woodstove) and very hot in the summer (cooled by lifting up the giant rolling gate and positioning industrial fans throughout the space). In its heyday, the warehouse had housed a construction company. But by the time we acquired the building, it was a neglected property caught in an inheritance dispute. On the same five-acre property was a building I christened “Bauhaus Shotgun,” because its straight-shot construction between the front and back door, with squared-off studios on each side of the long corridor. The property was located in what is now the Old Fourth Ward. Back then, the area was a kudzu field away from The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library – now completely gentrified, beyond recognition.

800 East was one of the very few alternative arts spaces in Atlanta in the 90s. It was also a safe haven for racially mixed sexual and artistic ‘others’: queers, bisexuals, lesbians, older creatives, skateboarders, and drag queens. In addition, bands, visual and performance artists, spoken-word artists, fashion designers, playwrights, independent theater companies, puppeteers, and inventors used the space to experiment and to find footing, encouragement, and solidarity. During this time, 800 East developed an ensemble of transdisciplinary artists who worked together for years. We developed, for example, ‘black light walk-through theater’ in which blacklight tubes were hung from monofilament to appear as if floating in midair throughout the 3,000-square-foot warehouse while our Black Light Prom unfolded under its ambiguous glow. Luminescence came from fabrics, paint, and objects rather than a light source. Since we had worked together for so many years, the ensemble — sometimes as many as 100 members — could intuit each other’s hesitation, moods, or need for assistance.

We made these performances, exhibitions, and concerts accessible to everyone. There was sometimes a cover charge — never more than $5 — and even if you didn’t have the money, you were welcomed in with a wave. Our overhead costs were inconceivably low, which made it possible to manage a large-scale, brick-and-mortar art space without much capital. The income we generated by renting the studios was enough to pay the rent, $450 for the entire five-acre property, and we offered the space to as many artists as possible to implement their visions.

Eventually, the bank overseeing the property informed us the family had agreed to settle. They offered us the opportunity to purchase ten acres and the two buildings for $80,000. No one had the money nor could we conceive mustering it up, so we closed the space with a wake and moved on. But I kept meticulous notes, VHS tapes, programs, fliers, invitations, and photos (when no one took photos) and, before returning to New York, I took them in boxes to my parents’ home in McDonough, Georgia, where they were stored on the shelves in the basement.

In 2014, a former 800 East ensemble member, Michael Kilburn — now Dr. Kilburn, Professor of Politics and International Studies at Endicott College, Beverly, Massachusetts — began, with the support of his college, interviewing past 800 East regulars. Michael had previously written a paper on 800 East aesthetics and its artistic movement while completing his doctorate studies at Emory University in Atlanta, and the oral histories he later conducted document in-depth this period of DIY independent and creative agency in Atlanta’s artistic communities. After collecting audio and video interviews for several years and converting more than 50 VHS tapes documenting 800 East events to a digital format, he wrote to [Randy Gue, Curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections at The Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University.

The letter:

August 1, 2016

Dear Mr. Gue,

I am an Emory University alumnae and read in a recent Emory magazine about your interest in material that “helps complete the cultural puzzle that is the American South.” For the past few years, I have been working with Ed Woodham and other former colleagues to document the activities of 800 East, an experimental visual and performance arts collective that was active in Atlanta throughout the 1990s. The group was extremely prolific, with new exhibits and performances every month for 8 years, as well as off-site initiatives for Mattress Factory shows, First Night Atlanta, Lollapalooza, the High Museum, and others. There is a wealth of archival material: flyers, posters, photographs, video, and original art that may be suitable for your collection. I have also conducted oral histories with many of the principal participants. In retrospect, the activities of 800 East seem like an important piece of the “cultural puzzle” and we would be pleased to contribute materials for archiving, analysis, and possible exhibition. Please let me know if this is of interest. I look forward to your response and possible future collaborations.

Yours, sincerely,

Michael Kilburn (ILA, 2001)

Professor of Politics and International Studies
Endicott College, Beverly, MA

And the reply:

August 1, 2016

Dear Dr. Kilburn,

Good morning. Thank you very much for contacting me about 800 East. I remember going to several shows there.

Yes, the materials are definitely of interest. I would love to add them to the Rose Library’s collections that document art and DIY culture in Atlanta. Is there a good time for me to call you this week so we can discuss your collection?

I am looking forward to learning more about the materials and your project.


Randy Gue
Curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections
Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library
Robert W. Woodruff Library
Emory University

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Randy picked up the boxes from my parents’ house. The Robert W. Woodruff Library acquired the 800 East archives, which were to be organized, electronically scanned, and made available to the public on request. Within this fortuitous library-contained history of 800 East is the origins of Art in Odd Places (AiOP), a grassroots project fueled by the idealism, good will, and inventiveness of those who participate. While at 800 East, I led a group of artists in the creation of AiOP to encourage local participation in the Cultural Olympiad hosted during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In 2005, after moving back to New York City, I reimagined this first Atlanta-based AiOP as a response to the paradigm espoused by the Home Land Security and Patriot Acts that inevitably led to the disappearance of public space and civil liberties in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Since 2005, AiOP has produced a yearly New York City festival where the visual and performance arts are interwoven into the everyday life of 14th Street in Manhattan. Each festival is based around a single focus or theme, always one word: Pedestrian, Sign, Chance, Model, Free, Race, Body, Invisible, and others. After each iteration, I have brought ephemera and artworks from the event to the tiny Brooklyn storage unit that houses the AiOP archives; each year, space in the unit gets tighter.

Since 2012, the festival has also traveled to explore other civic sites in the United States: Los Angeles, California; Greensboro, North Carolina; Beverly, Massachusetts; Indianapolis, Indiana; Orlando, Florida; and abroad in Sydney, Australia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Each of these iterations also produce a box or two of collectibles from the respective explorations of the public sphere.

As I moved into my silver years, I began to wonder what’s going to become of these archives in the future as well as how they could more clearly represent the mission, the accumulated experiences, and the hundreds of artists involved in the immense collaborative effort of AiOP.

Then came this letter:
May 1, 2012

Congratulations! We are pleased to include Art in Odd Places in Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, the official U.S. presentation at the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale (August 29 – November 25, 2012). We received over 450 project submissions and it took us longer than we thought it would to narrow the selection, so apologies for the late notification and the short time frame to turn around this request for materials. Your project will be presented as part of an archive of actionable strategies to improve the public urban realm. Our exhibition of realized interventions in U.S. cities will be accompanied by a full online archive of projects as well as a catalogue/monograph issue of Architect magazine.


The Institute for Urban Design

On October 28, 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded my Gowanus, Brooklyn neighborhood. My building’s basement, where I stored archival materials, including the records related to AiOP, was completely underwater. More tragic still, I had just returned earlier that day from my first visit to Atlanta since my mom’s death.

After Sandy struck, I lived in a friend’s apartment for a month while the electrical and gas were restored in my building. During that time of transience, I made a vow to restore the AiOP archives, attempting to replace what had been destroyed.

In 2014, Spontaneous Interventions, housed in building 403 of Governors Island’s Colonels Row, offered AiOP the opportunity to share its history. Curated by longtime AiOP Curatorial Manager Claire Demere, the exhibition, Art in Odd Places: The Artifacts, was a retrospective that examined AiOP through its ephemera, organizers, and contributing artists along with an installation of assorted objects from past festivals. Over two weeks, along with support of past curators and artists, I held panels and workshops reviewing AiOP’s history and influence. This opportunity allowed me to update and collect memorabilia lost to Sandy, replenishing the AiOP archives.

The 2015 edition of Art in Odd Places: RECALL celebrated the festival’s odd-numbered milestone anniversary — 11 years — with a survey of its first ten yearsCurators Sara Reisman and Kendal Henry consulted with AiOP’s past curators to establish an understanding of the festival’s history on 14th Street. Of the more than 500 artists who have participated in AiOP’s New York-iterations, 47 past artists were invited to reprise past artworks or present new projects. Following the festival, the now-defunct Lodge Gallery hosted an exhibition that featured a selection of artworks by artists participating in RECALL, which was accompanied by a publicly accessible AIOP archive.

In 2019, as I place another few boxes into the already overflowing storage unit and continue to develop a how-to manual so that others can follow AiOP’s model, I find myself once again pondering the fate of the rich historyWhere, for instance, will the archive be stored, shared, and sustained?

It’s also becoming clear that the vast electronic AiOP archive, which includes email exchanges, documents, spreadsheets, evolving templates, designs, invitations, and program guides, is equally essential to telling the many stories of AiOP. For this reason and many others, it is not only important, but imperative, that the AiOP archives represent the full range of experiences and encounters of the hundreds of artists, curators, staff, and festivalgoers who have participated in the project. To neglect the many inspiring and perhaps not-so-subtle nuances of AiOP is to deny its timeless, yet systematic, beauty.


Some links to 800 East videos
6¢, Carnival of the ¢s
Create the Opportunity
Row the Boat

Ed Woodham has been active in community art, education, and civic interventions across media and culture for over thirty-five years. A visual and performance artist, curator, and educator, Woodham employs humor, irony, subtle detournement, and a striking visual style in order to encourage greater consideration of – and provoke deeper critical engagement with – the urban environment. Woodham created Art in Odd Places (AiOP) to present visual and performance art to celebrate the importance of public spaces in New York City and beyond. Art in Odd Places has been produced in the United States: Los Angeles, California; Greensboro, North Carolina; Beverly, Massachusetts; Indianapolis, Indiana; Orlando, Florida; and abroad in Sydney, Australia and St. Petersburg, Russia. AiOP was selected as a representative in the U.S. Pavilion, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012. Woodham teaches art to children 1-4 years old at NYU Early Education Centers and to children 6-12 years old in art programs throughout NYC. He also teaches workshops in politically based public performances at NYU Hemispheric Institute for EmergeNYC and at School of Visual Arts for City as Site: Performance and Social Intervention. In 2017-18, he was an artist-in-residence at the Department of Art, University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2019, Woodham was a MacDowell Fellow and an artist in resident working with the City of West Hollywood, California.

Artists interrupted: Canceled re-enactment reopens slavery’s wounds

Manhattan-based artist Ed Woodham has produced Art in Odd Places for more than 15 years all over the country. The University of Virginia, where he had 28 artists interpret the theme of “Matter,” is the first place one of the performances was canceled. Eze Amos

By Lisa Provence
4/25/18 at 7:23 AM

When the student-run UVA Studio Arts Board asked New York artist Ed Woodham to bring his Art in Odd Places to the university, he wanted local artists to take part in the public visual and performance art, and the centerpiece of the two-day April event featured local theater artists Leslie Scott-Jones and Brandon Lee.

Two days before the performance, their project was canceled because of objections of black students and the Office of African-American Affairs. The artists say they were censored, and the dean of the OAAA says re-enactment of the enslaved laborers who built the university would be humiliating. Both sides say the other is “misinformed.”

Woodham, who started staging Art in Odd Places after 9/11 in New York, was selected to be UVA’s artist-in-residence in April 2017. “Then the events of August happened,” he says.

Scott-Jones, who is artistic director at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and who has helped revive the historic black theater troupe, the Charlottesville Players Guild, proposed “Historical Matters” to Woodham last fall.

Leslie Scott-Jones had planned a celebration of the slaves who built the University of Virginia, but the Art in Odd Places performance was canceled after objections from black students and the Office of African-American Affairs.

“My idea was to have a historical re-enactment on the Lawn using research from UVA’s Commission on Slavery,” she says. That was for April 5. The next day, she wanted Queen Charlotte, who was black and for whom Charlottesville was named, to be in a parade with fife and drums from the university to the Downtown Mall, where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would present her with the keys to the city.

Scott-Jones contacted Lee, who had been a re-enactor as a child at Colonial Williamsburg and who was a 2006 UVA grad. “As an artist, I wanted to do something in line with historical interpretation” that would include the experience of slave laborers and the first minority students at UVA, he says.

“Other than my senior research, that’s the most time I’ve spent on anything,” he says.

Scott-Jones recruited five professional re-enactors, who agreed to participate in “Historical Matters” at reduced rates, she says. She obtained permit paperwork for the parade and sent it to UVA to submit as the entity that was sponsoring the event, she says.

Then she heard that an emergency meeting of the Black Presidents Council—the student presidents of all the black organizations on Grounds—was being held the night of April 2 and was told, “None of the students knew about it, they didn’t want slave re-enactments and didn’t approve it,” she says.

She and Lee were not invited to the meeting, but showed up anyway. “The meeting got a little heated,” says Lee.

Lee, who is community advisor to his Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, says he was surprised to hear the students say they had not been advised about the project. “It’s totally inaccurate,” he says. “I pulled up an email I’d sent [to one of them]. Nobody responded.”

The students voted 14-0 against the project, with three abstentions.

Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, says he first heard about the performance four days before it was scheduled. “A student came to me and said, ‘Someone came to our door and asked if we wanted to be slaves,’” he says. “Can you imagine how upset you’d be as a parent?”

An email to Pat Lampkin, UVA vice president and chief student affairs officer, signed by Apprey and three other deans in his office, says, “The pretext of the entire project was clearly offensive.”

The deans wrote, “We shudder at the thought of having to explain to concerned parents, students and alumni that our black and non-black students are being asked to play roles of humiliation; namely, the enslaved and slave-owning.” They also shuddered at the idea of prospective students and their parents coming upon such an event while considering attendance at UVA.

UVA denies canceling the event. “Given serious concerns raised by minority student groups regarding the nature of the performances, Ms. Scott-Jones agreed not to proceed with the events planned for April 5 in order that additional dialogue and discussion might occur with those groups,” says spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn. “When the university subsequently learned that the necessary parade permits had not been obtained from the city for the events planned for April 6, this concern was raised with Ms. Scott-Jones who subsequently decided to cancel the events planned for that date.”

“The first part of that is a lie,” says Scott-Jones. She says Dirron Allen, assistant dean of students and director of student activities, told her, “We can’t allow you to do anything planned for Thursday.”

She says, “We canceled Friday because at that point, our artistic vision was ruined.”

Allen did not respond to Scott-Jones’ characterization of the cancellation, but de Bruyn says, “The Arts Board proposes artistic events for the university to consider hosting, and these proposed events are subject to the university’s review and approval.”

Woodham says he had received approval from the Arts Board. “I’ve worked for universities, civic organizations and cities. Nothing’s ever been censored before. We followed the Arts Board procedure. This was very last minute.” And, he says, the decision was “based on misinformation.”

Apprey calls the project “haphazard” and “misinformed”—but says, “I don’t have the right to censor anyone.”

And he compares it to asking Jewish students at Hillel House if they’d like to go to an Auschwitz re-enactment.

“The OAAA objected strongly and I would have been very upset if it had happened in spite of our objections,” he says. “Can you imagine after tiki torches on our Grounds, an enactment of a slave auction on our Grounds?”

He also suggests, “Before seeking refuge in an expression of ‘free’ speech, could we ask: Is what we are about to say or do a good idea?”

“The decision to cancel was troubling,” says Larry Goedde, chair of the department of art, who says he would be meeting with Dean of Students Allen Groves to learn what led to the decision and to clarify what the policy would be going forward.

“How is it wounding to celebrate the people who built the university?” asks Scott-Jones, who says there was no slave auction planned and that the objectors, had they talked to the artists, could have gotten an accurate picture of what they planned to do.

“You’ve got these black students so ashamed of their history, they want to ignore it,” she says.

“I am sad that after everything this town went through in August, they still don’t understand the real problem,” says Scott-Jones. “The reason Nazis could come here is because we haven’t paid attention to the other part of our history.”

Scott-Jones traces her ancestry to 1793 in Scottsville. “This is my history,” she says. “For the deans of the Office of African-American Affairs to assume this was anything but meticulously put together is ludicrous and offensive.”

Art in Odd Places explores matter and historical interpretation

Pedro Lasch’s “Fire and Ice,” performed on April 1 at the Main Street Arena, recontextualized fire from tiki-torch invasion to positive force. It’s part of Art in Odd Places: MATTER, which continues April 5 on UVA Grounds and April 6 on the Downtown Mall. Photo by Eze Amos

By Raennah Lorne
4/04/18 at 6:21 AM

This week, New York-based artist Ed Woodham brings his Art in Odd Places festival to Charlottesville in a two-day, intensely collaborative event with the theme of “matter.” Sponsored by the UVA Studio Arts Board, the mission of AiOP, Woodham writes in the program guide, “is to engage and activate the everyday places in our lives. In creative, unexpected and sometimes unusual ways we claim our shared rights to public spaces, while also making sure to question, subvert and occasionally shake up the socio-political status quo that regulates it.”

Woodham, who takes AiOP to various cities across the country, says, “It’s important for me being an outsider to be very mindful.” During numerous visits to Charlottesville, he has met with and listened to residents, UVA students, community leaders and artists. In past AiOP festivals Woodham has mostly brought in outside artists, but with AiOP MATTER, “the focus here is that there’s so much good work going on in Charlottesville that has been going on for years.” Consequently, the festival features 16 local artists, three regional artists and nine national and international artists. Woodham says the events of August 11 and 12 last year framed a narrow view of Charlottesville that he wanted to reframe by showcasing local artists “doing really innovative, change-making work.”

Local artists Leslie Scott-Jones and Brandon Lee have designed re-enactments for the festival in a work titled “Historical Matters,” which tells “the story of how the other half lived…our ancestors, the names of those Hoo are largely responsible for the building and upkeep of the university,” Scott-Jones and Lee write. Re-enactments on UVA Grounds will portray the lives of enslaved persons who built the university, as well as the first black students. On the second day of the festival, their work will celebrate Queen Charlotte, Charlottesville’s namesake, a descendant of Margarita de Castro e Souza, a black member of the Portuguese royal family. In a procession led by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps, Queen Charlotte will travel in a carriage from the Rotunda to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, before meeting the city’s mayor on the Downtown Mall. The procession will include the Monacan Indian Nation and historical interpreters representing enslaved persons and soldiers from various American war efforts.

Local performance artist Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell will contribute a work titled “Please Move Along, Nothing to See Here.” Four performers atop a pedestal will recreate Charlottesville’s statues of Robert E. Lee and George Rogers Clark in an animatronic-style human tableaux with songs and dialogue.

“This short performance will take place every half-hour at both [festival] locations and promises to be entertaining and absurd, and ultimately raw and personal,” says Tidwell. “I am interested in the juxtaposition of women of color portraying colonizing war ‘heroes.’ I think this is going to be an effective device to allow the audience to have a more visceral understanding of what is hidden or invisible in our community—from the geologic features to the erasure of documentation related to enslaved people at UVA and Native Americans here, to the misrepresentation of history solidified in the statues.”

National artist Pedro Lasch, a professor at Duke University, applied both a conceptual and literal interpretation of the theme of matter. His April 1 performance at the Main Street Arena was the last public event held there before the building’s scheduled demolition. “Fire and Ice” recontextualized fire from tiki-torch invasion to positive force.

“Early on,” he says, “I knew I wanted to do something related to the tension and tragic incident of last fall but I did not want to be heavy-handed about it.” Before he came to Charlottesville, he considered a project involving fire and ice and knew he wanted to honor the life of Heather Heyer. When he arrived, he ambled down the pedestrian mall at night, and the arched windows of the Main Street Arena revealed figure skaters spinning on the ice and the idea sparked.

The final act for the installation included hundreds of votive candles placed in the center of the rink with an invitation to the public to skate around them. “It’s celebratory for both Heather Heyer and the building,” says Lasch.

Ed Woodham reclaims public space with Art in Odd Places

UVA visiting artist Ed Woodham will discuss art in public space on October 24 at UVA and on October 25 at Second Street Gallery as a launch for his AiOP: MATTER festival set for April. Woodham produces Art in Odd Places in collaboration with other artists to offer uniquely set works such as Crystal Gregory’s “Invasive Crochet.” Courtesy Ed Woodham

Source: C-Ville
By Raennah Lorne

Each year, UVA’s student-run Arts Board Committee invites an artist to the University of Virginia. This year, in collaboration with the visual studio arts program, the students have invited New York-based artist Ed Woodham, founder and director of Art in Odd Places, a collaborative arts festival. Woodham will give two talks this month on the significance of art in public space, and in the spring he’ll collaborate with students, artists and the community to create an Art in Odd Places festival in Charlottesville.

Woodham says he created AiOP 13 years ago as “a challenge to the paradigm of homeland security after 9/11” when public space became much more regulated. Creating art in public spaces, he says, is a way of reclaiming those spaces and recognizing their importance “within the workings of our democracy. It’s where we gather and brush shoulders and come up with new ideas despite socioeconomic status, gender, race, persuasion,” he says. “It’s where we can be together, be change-makers.”

Now, he says, it’s also become about moving art from galleries, museums and theaters to make it more accessible to everyone, regardless of education or interest. There, in those public spaces, he hopes to interrupt the daily lives of passersby, to prod them out of their routine and inspire them to notice something new.

AiOP’s past installations have included crocheted snowflakes by Crystal Gregory inserted between barbed wire on a city street fence, and a performance piece called “White Trash” by Edith Raw, in which she dressed in transparent trash bags full of plastic bottles and other human-made trash. Woodham often contributes performance art to AiOP with whimsical and sometimes elaborate costumes that warrant a double take such as a Sasquatch-like suit or an all-white moving statue costume with a towering headdress.

In a 2014 TEDx Talk Woodham gave in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, he said, “In public space art can be shared and explored with a more fully democratic audience. And there it opens up the potential and the possibilities of creativity and communication.”

Three years later, he still feels that way. “It’s certainly a time to rethink the status quo,” he says. “…it might be a piece of art that will make you see. It activates the space and activates you because things are different.”

The UVA Arts Board Committee had already selected Woodham when Charlottesville’s public spaces became the epicenter of debate about history, racism, violence and free speech this summer. Woodham says that after August 12, Charlottesville’s festival, AiOP: MATTER, “became a whole new project.” It’s an opportunity, he says, “for the community of Charlottesville to weigh in on what they think this project should be. We’re listening to the community, both artists and non- artists—changemakers—on what they think this project should be.”

His talks this month, as well as the design and execution of the festival in the spring, offer the opportunity to re-examine our public spaces and experience them through a new creative lens.