Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

NYC outside the box

Creative Time: The Book

Edited by Ruth Peltason<br>Designed by Karlssonwilker<br>Princeton Architectural Press, <br>

If you’ve ever wandered into an unusually strange situation on a New York City street, you might be: one, on a film shoot; two, in a crime scene; three, participating in a public artwork by Creative Time. This independent, cutting-edge curatorial organisation is currently celebrating 33 years of surprising and exhilarating both residents and visitors in the world’s most sophisticated city – not an easy feat!

Creative Time: The Book is a formidable publishing achievement, designed by the young, multi-disciplinary duo Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker, who also conceived the ‘Urban Visual Recording Machine’. This glass-sided truck, parked up around the city and bristling with sensory devices, set out to capture ‘time, location, colours, sound, temperature, and wind velocity of a moment in New York City’. Recorded as a series of graphs, that information was processed and realised as 5000 unique prints. These were, in turn, pasted onto the book’s hardcover binding, creating a print-run of limited editions, each featuring a site- and time-specific illustration.

The book recounts the theoretical narratives, political arguments and social impact behind the staging of more than 300 events, installations, performances and happenings, realised by 1300 artists. Some took place in some of the most marginal and inhospitable locations in the five boroughs – including a landfill beach in Lower Manhattan, and the cavernous ‘foot’ of Brooklyn Bridge. Others reinvigorated tourist attractions such as Grand Central Station, Coney Island, Times Square’s 42nd Street, where Tibor Kalman co-ordinated the ‘Art Project’, turning boarded-up shopfronts into a block-long art town; and the World Financial Centre, where the iconic ‘Tribute in Light’ installation floods the night sky with ghostly reminders of the ‘twin towers’ on each anniversary of 9/11.

Creative Time grew out of the early 1970s redevelopment of Lower Manhattan’s Financial District, when brand-new plate-glass office buildings sat waiting for tenants, as bricks and mortar institutions as the us Customs House and Chamber of Commerce were standing empty and in need of new usage. While the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, a group of artists and curators took the initiative, persuading property owners to let them inhabit high-visibility ground-floor spaces, offering a window onto their art practice and luring office workers into temporary, magical worlds during their lunch hours.

Bringing art to the people, by breaking out of the elitist spaces that barricade the commercial art world and by redefining ‘art’ as a culturally diverse range of disciplines, from craft practice to digital design, via hip-hop and skateboarding, drumming and pyrotechnics, Creative Time is to be admired for some serious ‘outside the box’ thinking, for tackling thought-provoking issues while both enlightening and entertaining its audience. Its achievement is even more impressive when you consider the changing political climate of the us over the past thirty years, from the heyday of hippie activism to the moral majority’s clampdown on public art funding during the early 1990s. During these ‘culture wars’, the National Endowment for the Arts and other public bodies were demonised for funding artists deemed ‘obscene and indecent’. That Creative Time had retained its independent status meant it was able to avoid the restraints and keep operating without diluting its message.

If you missed them first time round, The Book presents a comprehensive overview of a unique, never-to-be-repeated collection of artworks across the widest range of media. If you were lucky enough to be there, it’ll feed your nostalgia and make you hungry for the future.