Artists bring 'outdoor living room' to New York

22nd October 2015, Comments 0 comments

They set up chairs, tables and beds on the sidewalk and engage New Yorkers in chat: French performance artists have spent three weeks living and sleeping on Broadway.

Laurent Boijeot, 34 and Sebastien Renauld, 33 -- accompanied by photographer Clement Martin -- started in Harlem and each day, pack up their encampment, move south, and set up home again.

They live in the open air and chat with hundreds of New Yorkers, normally rushing by with heads buried in phones, but suddenly curious and glad to stop for an impromptu conversation.

After spending a month on the street, the threesome will finish their New York adventure in Battery Park on Sunday.

They have been bowled over by the welcome.

New Yorkers "quickly understand it's performance art, and some come down to thank us," says Boijeot.

"'Welcome', 'thank you' -- it's the first time I've heard that so much," says Renauld, drinking a cup of coffee out of a coconut at their simple, pine table.

Police let them be, despite complaints from doormen who do not appreciate these nomads of art, each day hulking furniture on their backs and luggage in cardboard suitcases.

New Yorkers have bombarded them with offers of showers, helped set out their tables and chairs and brought them pastries.

They spent several days in the rain -- not a happy experience says Martin -- enjoyed an Indian summer and braved a cold snap.

They have a bank of great memories: an opera singer who came to sing them Carmen, an impromptu duet with a passing violinist, and what Renauld calls "artistic-philosophical discussions at three in the morning with police on what is art."

- Next stop: Tokyo -

New Yorkers "are not scared of others," says Boijeot.

But they can be over-sharers. Conversations quickly turn personal -- sometimes too personal. He tells of one man who confided the soap opera details of his life.

So what's the point? "Art, to produce collective emotions," says Renauld, an architect by training.

He says the table and modest pine chair mock social hierarchies, putting everyone on an equal footing.

"I think it's great," says yoga teacher Jennifer Landesman.

"I think that humanity needs more connection and relationship, that there's so much digital media that takes us out of connecting in a human way."

Boijeot and Renauld have done similar but shorter stays in European cities such as Venice, Dresden, Brussels and Zurich.

Next month they head to Tokyo for a similar traversing of the city from November 20 to December 21.

Beyond that, they hope to take the experience to Dakar and Latin America "where people use the street differently," said Renauld.

"Some people ask us, 'Is it a reality show?' And I just answer them, 'It's not a show, it's better -- it's just reality,'" said Boijeot.


© 2015 AFP

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