[iDC] Conflux, Festivity and Atopia

Bingxia Yu byu at beyuu.net
Thu Sep 18 03:25:54 UTC 2008

Hi all,

Trebor had asked me to write a brief summary of the Conflux Festival in New
York City, the psycho-geography + art + technology + new media + urban
spaces + whatever else's left festival which was held last weekend at the
Uber-urban Center for Architecture in Manhattan's Uber-urban Greenwich
Village. I believe many people on this listserv attended, participated or
walked past the festival, therefore it would be exciting to start an open
conversation here. Please feel free to follow up with your own thoughts on
the festival, related or unrelated to my post.

The festival, in my opinion did keep its fresh blood and uniqueness for the
past five years. if the change of headquarter location this year is not
suggesting a gradual shift from a largely free-spirited hipster street
festival in Brooklyn to an experimental mini-biennial. The change, though,
wasn't exactly what everybody wanted to see. The street performance
component of the festival was more hampered by the lack of street space than
it was possible to transform the space. Installations were mostly confined
to a small gallery hall. When there were projects sprawling all over the
city, it was almost impossible to interact or notice them in this already
highly multitude city. Question was raised by a few people I met, "where is
the festival?", to which I answered with a certainly unhelpful but truly
nomadic "everywhere" … Yet at the same time, presentation series was better
attended, including well-established artists such as Alfredo Jaar and
Natalie Jeremijenko, but also park-preserving environmental activists.

What Conflux 2008 reminded me, which its 2007 version somehow did not was a
curatorial project called "Utopia Station", initiated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist,
Molly Nesbit and Rirkrit Tiravanija and presented at the Venice Biennial in
2003 -- the year Conflux Festival inaugurated. The three organized an open
exhibition with ideals of "Utopia", "Nomadism" and "Multitude" in mind, yet
was transcribed by critics as a "confusing cornucopia", "directionless
sprawl" and "fatally separate". My comparison was somehow proved when I was
offered tiny dishes of Columbian ethnic food lying on small maps from one of
the projects at Conflux, bringing up Tiravanija's art practices of cooking
Thai food immediately to me(ironically his new exhibition just opened a few
blocks away from Conflux HQ). When Obrist, Newbit and Tiravanija were
describing their "multitude" they were referring to "Performances, concerts,
lectures, readings, film programs, parties, the events will multiply." When
Conflux is describing the festival it's an even longer list, "art
installations, street art interventions, interactive performance, walking
tours, bicycle and public-transit expeditions, DIY media workshops,
lectures, films and music."  The multitude of festivities was certainly
achieved, yet how big a melting pot can it be, compared to New York City as
world's most famous melting pot remained a question.

Instead of utopia I prefer the even more sentimental term "atopia", meaning
a society without territory borders, a change ever-changing, a perspective ,
mentioned sometimes by the French philosopher Michel de Certeau.  Conflux
Festival somehow had that idealism of an "atopia station", offering
strategies of change to everyday experience....if there is a taker in
Greenwich Village.

Which comes to the point: all above being said, I still largely enjoyed the
festival, from the priceless moment that NYPD cut down a swing installed
outside of the headquarter, to the famous Lucas Murgida's twitter stream
about him hiding in a box and being dragged away to a restaurant, to get a
free massage, to receive a different video emoticon everyday on my phone
from Brian House' Bluetooth transmitter. At the end Conflux came down to a
non-conceptual playfulness that might fit better to Coney Island, no matter
what it's related to – art, technology, new media, environmentalism etc.
It's a nice thing.

Bingxia Yu
byu at beyuu.net
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