“We don’t have a lot of money and we don’t have a lot of time,” Ms. Joo said. “But we have some money and some time, and we have real estate. One of the reasons that the New Museum has kind of a ridiculous number of programs every year—more than a museum of this size might have—is that we know we have this valuable real estate, and think we should activate it.”
Ms. Yahalomi’s proposal to involve the Occupy Wall Street members in her work at Union Square was not immediately accepted by the group. “There were many concerns about co-optation,” she said. “They were saying, ‘We are trying to form a new way of living.’ Why would Occupy Wall Street decide to be involved with an artist who is visiting from Israel, and an event that is part of Performa?”
But after three weeks of her working to build a coalition, Occupy Wall Street’s Art and Culture and Direct Action committees approved her proposal, just two days before the planned action in Union Square. They saw, Ms. Yahalomi said, that this was a potential platform for spreading their message.
On the day of the event, a long black ribbon was strung around the audience and two people with megaphones called out binary phrases. Each side of the resulting box represented one response.
“You hear, for example, ‘Man/Woman,’ and you go to the side that you identify with,” Ms. Yahalomi told us. “And the statements are getting more and more complicated.” Socialism or capitalism. God is dead, or God is with me. Israel or Palestine. Glenn Beck or Jon Stewart. Each time, those in the ribbon had to move in accordance with their beliefs, acting out a demonstration. “You are asked to go to choose a side and to take a stand,” the artist said.
After Public Movement finished, the members of Occupy Wall Street’s Direct Action committee presented a lesson to the crowd about how they facilitate their meetings, and then began to stage a human mic. “A policeman came up to me immediately,” Ms. Yahalomi told us, “and he said, ‘This is not Positions, this is Occupy Wall Street,’ and I said, ‘No. This is still a choreographed demonstration.’”
She recalls that she and the police officer spoke for about a half hour “about when does art stop being art and what does art look like, and what it should be constructed of, which was very fascinating. After a while, he was looking in my eyes and saying, ‘I know this is not art.’ But it was art, art that turned into politics.”
During the triennial, Public Movement will hold salons every other week about Israeli and Palestinian identity in America, and on Park 51, the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Ms. Yahalomi has plans that are not yet confirmed for that latter topic, but she hopes they will come through. “As they say in Park 51—Insha’Allah,” she said.
And Public Movement is at work on another piece that will be presented at the end of the triennial. “For Eungie, it’s a huge risk,” she said. “No one knows what the salons will bring, and because they will form the final action, I can’t yet predict what will happen.”