With the ability to instantly share our surroundings via Instagrams, tweets, Snapchats and Taptalks, art fairs can almost entirely be experienced through a virtual patchwork of social media. Why put on pants when the artwork is right at your fingertips? This year’s Frieze New York Art Fair, however, which opened to the public yesterday, brings together an array of artworks and special projects that exist beyond hashtags. In essence, it's filled with art that can only truly be experienced IRL.
The act of getting to the fair, which is subway-inaccessible in its remote Randall’s Island location, is an interactive adventure in itself. The act of being crammed on a ferry alongside the rest of the New York art scene seems like an accidental experiment in relational aesthetics. By the time you reach the looming tents you’ve been physically prepared to not just be a viewer, but a participant in the art fair experience. Mexican artist Pia Camil, whose booth is located right as you enter the fair, uses its contained art environment as the basis for her project, giving out free wearable textiles at 12 PM and 3 PM daily. “Camil's textiles require direct participation, quietly emphasizing the characteristic experience of the art fair,” reads the wall text, “where the act of looking at art is as important as the act of looking at others and distinguishing oneself from them." The textiles were limited, and people lined up feverishly to be able to be involved, making those patrons lucky enough to wear a patchwork cape immediately rise up the ranks.
Luckily there are many more opportunities to be a participant at the fair, even if you don’t get a free robe. At Gavin Brown's Enterprise, fairgoers are invited to paint identical black dots for Jonathan Horowitz’s 700 Dots project while two separate Frieze Projects focus on the interactive nature of a maze. At Aki Sasamoto’s Coffee/Tea, queued up visitors are asked to choose between the two beverages to begin their journey, leading you through a series of doors, questions, and decisions that decide your path through the installation. By the end of the maze, you realize you’ve participated in a physicalized personality test, resulting in a ambiguous but poignant button declaring your character type. “Into Odd,” “Into Candy,” “Into Vague”—we might not know exactly why, but we’ve been given our social class on the art island.
Even inside gallery booths, a surprising number of artworks depend on viewer interaction, and more specifically, the relationship between technology and emotion. Many works include sound, like Cécile B. Evans’ Hyperlinks or It Didn’t Happen, a video and installation that is narrated by PHIL, a computer rendering of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sit on the shag carpet next to photographs and mementos from the late actor while you listen to PHIL and watch his eerily familiar face stare back, occupying strange place between reality, technology, and the ability to live on after death.
A few booths away at the Le Guern Gallery from Poland, a large wooden machine with dials and blinking lights, Przemyslaw Jasielski's Emotions Control Unit, takes in surrounding sounds, vibrations, and heat signatures, generating its own emotional state based on the people around it. As displayed on meters that shift based on the object’s feelings in the moment, the machine blinked a low light of Sadness, and the dial quivered at a high rate of Stimulation when I walked by, reading my feelings before I knew I had them.
When the art fair fatigue kicks in, the last thing you want to do is interact—unless, of course, it’s with one of Korakrit Arunanondchai’s painted denim massage chairs. Inside the fair (with a few hidden outside on the lawn), the high tech massage chairs, splashed in paint and bleach, are a beacon of relaxation after hours of participation. Next to one of the chairs, which is placed in a square of splattered paint and disheveled piles of clothes (looking as if it could almost be in the artist’s own studio) is a message: In three days you will look back at this moment with a sensitivity towards art and life and the process.
In two more days the fair will be over. The art will be gone like the art tourists, the island will be vacant, and the ferry will no longer be a stage for art world correspondence. And although the memories of the fair and all the works inside it will forever be saved under their corresponding hashtags, the experience of participating with art in-the-moment is personal. No one will know, regardless of likes or retweets, the real feeling of sitting in a massage throne on art island, and being, if only for a moment, the fair's most important participant.
New York’s Frieze Art Fair will be open Thursday, May 14 through Sunday, May 17, 2015.
Follow Kate Messinger on twitter: @MeTheMessinger