Saturday, November 21, 2009

Terence Koh, Silent March, November 21, 2009, at Tompkins Square Park

Terence Koh, Silent March, beginning at Tompkins Square Park, November 21, 2009 for Performa 09. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

The New York Times, July 15, 1904

“Despite the size of the gathering, a quiet prevailed which was painful in its intensity.”
- The New York Times, “Vast, Silent Throng Mourns Slocum Dead,” July 15, 1904

By 7:00 pm last night, most of Tompkins Square Park had been deserted, though about 100 people had congregated at its center “in the middle bye [sic] the two trees,” just as a note circulated by Terence Koh had requested. New Yorkers wandering through the park, many walking dogs, seemed surprised to find the gathering. Hearing that the crowd was waiting for some sort of art performance, many decided to wait, and the mass slowly grew.

Many of those waiting scanned the park’s perimeter, apparently wondering where the event would begin. As 7:30 approached, some wondered aloud if Koh had perhaps created a Godotian situation, or if he had possibly been nabbed by police who had been tipped off to some unimaginably obscene aspect of the piece. But then they appeared — 10 figures clad in layers of buoyant fabric, tights, and face paint, all white, sans shoes — marching quietly in a line. Koh did not appear to be among the group.

Two neighborhood kids, maybe 10 or 11 years old, ran along with the group, shouting questions at them. “Are you zombies? Are you dead?” They jumped, waving their hands in front of the walkers’ faces, then trotted jokingly behind them, as line curved its way through the otherwise empty park. The kids turned to the spectators, “Why are they doing this?” We, of course, were equally baffled and couldn’t answer with much more than “It’s art,” or “It’s a performance.”

The 10 marchers exited the park onto Avenue B and headed north, walking slowly enough that the crowd could easily walk past them and view the spectacle from every side. The audience flooded into the street, letting the sidewalk serve as a makeshift stage. It felt wrong to get too close. Diners and drinkers in bars and restaurants stopped to stare. Smokers out on the street shouted questions and asked audience members. “Where are they protesting?” “Why are you doing this?” Drivers seemed understanding of the mass, laughing or simply pausing and gazing as the walkers passed.

A few audience members fell away as the walkers turned left onto East 13th Street. How long could they walk? It was cold. Finally, crossing Avenue A, after a brief pause for a traffic light to change, the group ventured into the Phoenix bar, whose patrons looked largely nonplussed. Many of the white-cloaked performers, who eyed each other somewhat nervously, also looked confused. Did they know where they were going, or were they just following along, as well?

After a few minutes, the leader exited the bar and led the group back across Avenue A and into an apartment building. “That’s it. The performance is over,” the man holding the door for them informed the crowd, before swinging it shut. People loitered for a bit, waiting to confirm his statement. Then they walked off in every direction.

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