What is processional art? The idea of the parade evokes the imagery of marching bands, elaborate floats, large Macy’s Day balloons, and a chaos of noises coming from the excitement of both the on looking crowds and the procession itself. It wasn’t until artists Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles, the masterminds behind performances at the annual New York Village Halloween parade, talked about their project did I realize the expressive potential of a parade for bringing together and voicing the cultural narratives of communities. Any medium of an artist talk, may it be a book talk, an interview with a director of a film, or the conventional artist talk given around the opening of an exhibition, has this ability to both illuminate the uncertain areas of their work and help us further define what constitutes art. As Alex explained in the beginning of the talk, their form of art is, “a new kind of performance art, but…an old kind of performance.”
Alex and Sophia along with Marcia Sells, head of the Office of Community Outreach at the School of the Arts, who moderated the talk, kicked it off with a clip of the artist’s performance from the 2008 Halloween parade. The screen of Miller was filled up with the images of enormous ghost puppets traversing the sky, tables covered in dinnerware arranged purposely askew, and windows displaying ghostly apparitions peeking behind diaphanous curtains.
One of the most interesting points discussed by the team and Marcia was their investigation of cultural clichés and elements of tradition which bind a community and generations together. They threw in anecdotes about the various parades they’ve done on an international scale, recalling processions in Turkey, where they walked down the streets with umbrellas lit up and emblazoned with images of Karagoz figures (similar to
the archetypal characters of Italian commedia dell’arte), and in Ukraine, where they dressed up as black cats inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s book, The Master and Margarita. The one aspect which unified all these performances, was the diversity of responses to the processions both from unsuspecting pedestrians who happened to stumble upon the parades and those who participated in them. As Alex and Sophia discussed, much of what comes out of the performances is how the people involved interact with them. As artists, Alex and Sophia develop the theme and everything else about the performance simply grows out of the framework that they put down. Because the act of a procession only lasts a few minutes, the takeaways from the performance are the unexpected fragments that each participant remembers and hopefully continues to inverstigate.
For this year’s Morningside Lights, Alex and Sophia came up with the theme “The Imagined City,” jumping from the notion that Morningside park which was once seen as a
barrier in the past, can now be reclaimed as a site to create a community exchange through the tradition of a parade. By imagining a new city, their idea was to, “allow a neighborhood to ephemerally develop their own urbanism.”
The workshops for the parade, during when Alex and Sophia will build participants in creating lanterns to be carried during the procession, are taking place all throughout this week from 2-8 pm. The parade itself will be taking place on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 8 pm in Morningside Park.
-Caroline Chen, CC’15