New York City has been home to the weird and the wonderful for centuries. Over this past weekend, residents of the big apple continued their propensity for strangeness by crawling down the streets of Manhattan. What exactly could entice masses of people to get down on all fours and drag themselves through the -- probably grimy -- streets of NYC's bustling central borough? Art, of course.
Veteran "crawl artist" Pope.L created this performance piece as a commentary on physical privilege. Nearly 150 New Yorkers crawled along a route that stretched one and a half miles from the Cpl. John A. Seravalli Playground in the West Village to the south steps in Union Square Park. The participants were split into five relay groups, which each covered a 25-block section of the designated path.
Each person in the crawl was chosen as a representation of the diversity of New York City. The relay groups included participants of varying ages, genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, and physical abilities. The diversity in ability and age was especially relevant to the message of the piece, as an estimated 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65 by 2030 and will have vastly different mobility needs at the age of 67 than they do at 27. The relay structure of the piece was meant to emphasize the interconnectedness of all humans, no matter how different they may seem on the outside.
Pope.L has been organizing crawls in New York City and elsewhere in the United States since the 1970s, but this was the performance artist's largest and most ambitious project yet. Titled Conquest, the crawl was part of a singular concept that includes a trio of complementary exhibitions that will be shown at the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in October.
On Saturday, Sept 21, the crawlers were given a few props to further the symbolism of the event. As they dodged the street germs that could have given them one of the 1 billion colds Americans get every year, participants also had to hold a flashlight and blindfold. They could crawl in any style that suited them and their ability level, whether it was a military crawl, on their hands and knees, or any other variation. No matter the exact stance, each crawler only wore one shoe to emphasize each of their personal struggles.
"People who are forced to give up their verticality are prey to all kinds of dangers. But, let us imagine a person who has a job, possesses the means to remain vertical, but chooses to momentarily give up that verticality? To undergo that threat to his/her bodily/spiritual categories—that person would learn something," said Pope.L.
As another element of the event, a perfumer followed each relay group to scent the air with a mix of teakwood and tobacco. The event's press release said that the perfuming was meant to add to the absurdity and theatricality of the performance. A sweeper led the procession, although this was likely for safety over performativity.
At the finish line, Pope.L hugged each crawler as they ended their journey in front of the historic bronze statue of George Washington on a horse. The last to get to the end drenched Pope.L with several bottles of faux Flint, Michigan water. The U.S. economy loses over $9 billion every year due to pipeline corrosion. Tens of thousands of people across the country have been left without access to clean water due to this corrosion and lead contamination. As the first major city to have one of these water crises, the Flint water was meant to reference all those who are still struggling without clean drinking water.
Even in a city where the strange happens every day, seeing masses of people crawling their way down the streets of lower Manhattan was certainly a sight to see. As Pope.L seems to have no intention of ending his legacy of performance art charged with social justice, keep your eyes peeled for his next event in New York City.