Improv Everywhere (don’t) bring the noise

New York prank collective creates an installation with a difference for the Guggenheim
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While urban living has its irrefutable benefits of access and cultural excitement, that stimulation can sometimes come at the cost of visual and aural quietude. To offer refuge from the deluge of urban cacophony, the Guggenheim museum New York’s Architecture and Urban Studies program has launched Stillspotting, a two-year project to pick or construct public places that will be transformed by artists, architects and composers. 

For this two-year project, the Guggenheim selected self-proclaimed “prank collective” Improv Everywhere (among others) to create a five-part series interacting in public spaces in the five boroughs of New York City. Founded in 2001, the collective stages improvised scenes in public that attempt to generate in the words of Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd, both “chaos and joy”.

For the Guggenheim, Improv Everywhere has so far executed two parts of its five-part installment. The first collaboration, The Mute Button took place in Prospect Park, Brooklyn this past Spring and involved 23 actors and two dogs radiating the noises urbanites encounter everyday: children crying, street musicians playing, a momentary relationship quarrel, dogs barking, break dancers and street salesmen. At Todd’s cue, the sound was removed as the actors went on “mute,” continuing their movements and action. 

The second installation, executed in August in Manhattan involved the amplification of positive sounds in lieu of the reduction of negative ones as the collective installed a public lectern in Union Square with the simple written directive "Say Something Nice.” With no actors present, the lectern invited passers by to interact with one another in public.

Still from <em>Say Something Nice</em>Still from Say Something Nice

The improvised scenes appear to be part Interventionist works, part performance art and part comedy, but Todd tells Phaidon he prefers to eschew categorisation. “The less we classify ourselves, the more available we are for unexpected opportunities. It’s been really exciting to collaborate with the Guggenheim on this series. No matter who we are working with, the spirit of what we do remains the same.” 

Improv Everywhere will produce three remaining installations for Stillspotting in each of the remaining boroughs of New York City, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx within the next year. For more information, visit stillspotting.guggenheim.org or improveverywhere.com.


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