Spring 2016 Residency

Joseph Keckler

Residency at the Crossroads is a new cross-disciplinary and collaborative residency program, in which artists are invited to experiment and engage with Times Square’s unique urban identity and users. Launched in Summer 2015, the program hosted a series of 4 three-month residencies for New York City-based artists, infusing artists into the thriving urban commercial district of Times Square in order to creatively investigate its identity and usage through observation, experimentation, engagement and documentation. As the fourth resident artist of this program, Joseph Keckler challenged the New Yorkers' supposed rejection of the contemporary Times Square (the associated embarrassment and contrarian allergy towards it) through surreptitious performance.

Words from the Artist:

For my Residency at the Crossroads with Times Square Arts, I set out to consider New Yorkers’ supposed contrarian rejection of Times Square, and their claims to “never go there.” It is well-known that while citizens from around the globe flock to NYC in order to stand amidst the blazing screens of the neighborhood, residents of the city studiously avoid stepping foot there-- or claim to, at any rate.

I embarked on a series of outings in which I lurked around, looking for locals I recognized, so that I could question them as to the reason for their visit to the scorned plaza. Perhaps this would lead me to prove that New Yorkers actually did frequent Times Square, even though they pretended not to—like Goody Cloyse, consorting with the devil in secrecy. Or perhaps through my interviews I would come to understand more about the nature of our disdain for the place. In any case, it amused me to envision myself interrogating casual acquaintances at the bronze feet of Father Duffy, or against a wall in the Red Lobster breezeway. However, I had no specific plan for outcome of the piece that might arise from such encounters: it was all a lurk-in-progress.

The problem was that after several afternoons of dutiful lurking, I had still recognized almost no faces, aside from those of several nationally beloved cartoon characters who appeared to have fallen on hard times. Mostly I saw strangers—many moved quite slowly, in formations I would describe as clumps. Had those from my various social and professional circles actually circumnavigated the area? Were some of them here among the crowds, but in disguise? Was I simply missing them, my mind stunned by flashing advertisements and chattering mobs of the listless?

Having little luck outside, I began working indoors-- Times Square Arts generously furnished me with a room that neighbored their headquarters at 1560 Broadway, the Actors Equity Building. I began using this space as a rehearsal studio, writing room, and even film set, making it the home base not only for my residency-related research, but all my creative work.

I found that in having a base right next to Times Square, my impressions of the neighborhood shifted. Once I felt that I too belonged here, lo and behold: my allergy to the crowds around me became rather less severe. I also started reading books about the history of the neighborhood, such as Times Square Red Times Square Blue by Samuel Delaney. Soon enough, I took to wandering again, with less of an agenda than I originally had, but still operating as a sort of designated observer. I spent time listening to stormy organ music in the pews of St. Mary’s; hanging out alone in nearby pizza places, like a Hopper subject hopeful who’d chosen too cramped a room to languish in; perching on the fire escape of one building while watching distorted versions of Times Square’s advertising screens reflected in the windows of another. More than anything, I walked through the streets-- in the daytime and particularly in the wee hours of the night. Eventually, my walks extended outwards and I stopped taking the train to get places; I found myself walking 100 blocks a day for a while, departing from, or returning to Times Square from my other appointments. I was a liberated lurker.

Carrying on in the spirit of a stalker freed from purpose, I began hammering away on a suite of written impressions and music that engage Times Square more broadly—or engage it in a range of particular ways. For instance, I’m making a short aria about the neighborhood’s intertwining histories of prostitution and the Metropolitan Opera. I’m also writing a reflection on Times Square and “the future.” Finally, I’m making a performance about New Years Eve and its midnights, and apocalypses that did and did not occur, which I think should someday be performed in Times Square. Not only would it have a site-specific aspect, since Times Square is the place the year changes, but it would also be a perfect ruse to lure all those casual acquaintances to a place they ought to be.

 -- Joseph Keckler