Grubby Elmo impersonators and scantily clad cowboys are par for the course in Times Square. The same can't be said for a human-sized, 12-ton glass aquarium that periodically floods and drains, requiring performance artists inside the tank to creatively respond to the changing water levels.
Co-presented by Times Square Arts alongside the World Science Festival, Holoscenes is an epic performance-installation created by Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera that viscerally connects everyday activities to climate change. From June 1–3, 6–11 PM each night, performers takes turns climbing into the tank and attempting to complete mundane tasks, like making the bed or coiling a garden hose, while submerged. As the water level rises and falls, the actions take on the qualities of a fraught water ballet.
"The project actually started because I was really impacted by images of flooding that I was seeing from around the world," says Jan, a TED Fellow and the Artistic Director of Early Morning Opera. "And these images of flooding, these beautiful pictures which are horrific to look at, drew me in and made me need to research what was behind the flooding. And that took me to climate change. And that in turn took me to the science behind it and this idea of the Anthropocene. This idea that we as a species are now affecting the biosphere on a geologic timeline as no species ever has before."
Jan worked with hydraulic engineers, designers, artists, performers, and a cadre of scientists to develop Holoscenes. The work has toured internationally to places like Miami Beach and Abu Dhabi, but placing the piece at New York's literal crossroads of consumerism and urbanism amplifies its message. The captivating, free, public performance isn't an agitprop piece. It's meant to be a relatable, visceral piece about our relationship with water, one open to interpretation.
To pick the tasks performed in Holoscenes, Jan and his team put out a call for online submissions and got more than 100 suggestions back from people in over 40 countries. Though some of the ideas were fantastical, there was a surprising amount of overlap. For example, contributors in Thailand, Norway, and New Zealand all suggested "making the bed."
"So what was interesting was to see the essential behaviors that were shared across the world. Of course the details were different," Jan tells Creators. "We knew we couldn't do all of them, so we set up a prototype tank and started rehearsing different behaviors. And they bring up different things and feel different, so we wanted to create a menagerie of human behavior that runs a gamut."
Watching a performer wield a squeegee and rubber gloves or sell nectarines from a fruit stand is supposed to feel relatable, with the implication that rising sea levels will impact every mundane facet of our lives in the future. In a week in which the US announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, Holoscenes is a chilling intervention—one that many hope is fiction, not a forecast.
Check out Holoscenes at the corner of Broadway and 46th Street in Times Square each evening through June 3.