This is a Commended Project from the 2019 International Award for Public Art

Manhattanites are great walkers, used to traversing large swaths of the island on foot. But few of them have trekked as far as a pair of French artists who were determined to meet the city quite literally from the ground up. Walking along Broadway, Boijeot and Renauld traversed half of Manhattan, from 125th Street down to the Battery at the bottom of the island and across the water from the Statue of Liberty. But it was how they made the trip that turned the journey into a work of durational performance art—and, more importantly, an occasion for human connection.

The pair went very slowly, covering only about five blocks a day, so the trip took them a full month. They brought along a set of bedding and collapsible chairs along with suitcases, and lived and slept out on the streets. During the day, they configured their portable furniture to create public seating, and then made coffee and invited passersby to stop, chat, play a game of chess, or share a meal. At nightfall, they reconfigured the seating into beds—not just for themselves, but for anyone else who needed one. They showered and bathed in the apartments of acquaintances they made along the way. Thus their stop-and-start journey through a city famous for its alienation effects became an occasion for conversation, connection, and the exchange of much-needed help.

Not that the process went smoothly: the artists had to deal with the police on a near-daily basis, “which seems to be in large part one of the points of the project,” wrote Michelle Young in an account of the project on the UntappedCities website. After they spent a night on the sidewalk at Broadway and 99th Street, for example, they told Young that “[the police] woke us up at seven. We had a proper talk about U.S. public space regulation in our underwear. Standard sidewalk procedure.’”

Text by Jon Spayde, based on reports by researchers for the International Award for Public Art.

Public Art Review issue 59Included as part of a feature on the International Award for Public Art in Public Art Review #59.