Performative Chance Walks in NYC

Performative chance walks in New York City- Simone Eringfeld
Maps as Media: Map Critique – 11/14/2018

Figure 1

John Cage has experimented a lot in his artistic practice with the concept of chance. Both in his drawings and in his musical compositions, he designed ways of working by setting conditions that allowed chance to shape the creative process. The piece depicted above (figure 1), ’49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs’ consists of a New York City map onto which Cage has drawn 49 triangles in different colours, connecting randomly selected street addresses in New York City. Based on this map, he composed a Waltz for each triangle, connecting the music to exact locations one can then visit while listening to the music.

Cage thus uses the map as an artistic object that serves him as a starting point for his creative process. Firstly, he draws visually pleasing patterns on top of it, without giving too much attention to the actual geographical locations his triangles connect in the ‘real’ city. Secondly, he composes the musical pieces that can be listened to while visiting those locations. It is left up to the listener to associate the sound to the space in order to combine them into a sense of place.

Inspired by Cage, my project revolves around the creation of a series of performative chance walks in New York City. Yet the map that Cage takes as a starting point and the execution of the routes as the ending point, is exactly what I change around in my project. By leaving the map for later as it were, I start by placing my own body in the physical space of the city, and create the conditions for it to be through it by chance. As I thus go along, my paths outline themselves.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as by:

1. Asking strangers for directions to wherever they recommend me to go in NYC. For instance, what is their (least) favorite spot in the city?
2. Throwing a dice every two blocks. 1 = straight on, 2 = left, 3 = right, 4 = return, 5 = choose myself, 6 = cross the street and throw again
3. Following strangers on the street until they reach a final destination. Then pick a new stranger to follow.
4. Randomly pinpointing a starting spot in NYC. Going there to follow a pattern/rhythm. For example: straight on for 1 block, turn left, straight for 2 blocks, turn right, straight for 3 blocks, turn left, et cetera.
5. Walking in straight lines only, for example, all the Broadways of NYC in their entirety.

As such, my walks are being designed simultaneously as they are being performed. Following patterns to navigate one’s way through New York’s grid system can result in aesthetically pleasing lines drawn onto the map, such as the V-shape seen in figure 2.

The GPS app that I use to document my walks with is called Livetrekker, and allows me to insert photographs, notes, videos and voice recordings that are attached to the specific place where I take this material (see figure 3, 4 and 5 for examples). I will then create my own maps with this documentation that jointly form an alternative atlas, or even a ‘guide book’ of some sorts, to the City of New York. As such, the city reveals itself as it wishes, with my body serving as a mere vehicle to inscribe into its streets poetic patterns of moving through and passing by, with unaware strangers as my guide.

Figure 2                                    Figure 3

Figure 4                                    Figure 5