Posted at 05:58 PM ET, 10/13/2011

Clapping, ‘auto-affirmation’ art installation a sign of the times

Starting today, a new interactive public art installation in Times Square titled “Performer” will allow aspiring stars to experience a virtual, clapping 500-person audience.


The “Performer” public art installation. (Adam Frank)
Artist Adam Frank describes “Performer” as as an “auto-affirmation machine” that “will make people feel good.”

The installation is a far cry from Times Square’s most beloved sound installation, artist Max Neuhaus’s “sound sculpture,” which was installed in a subway ventilation shaft in 1977.

Despite the cacophony of Times Square, a person standing on the pedestrian island where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect south of 46th Street can always hear Neuhaus’s sound sculpture if he or she listens carefully enough.

The sound sculpture also sounds different to every person that hears it. “Depending on one’s ear, it is either a continuous oooom-like mantra, a moan, a reverberating bell or an organlike drone,” the New York Times wrote in 2006. There is no sign to mark its location.

Much has been written about Generation Y’s need for affirmation, often pointing to this generation’s constant desire for more friends on Facebook or for followers on Twitter, and the “Performer” installation is a living embodiment of that.

The Wall Street Journal reported that corporations like Lands End and Bank of America are hiring “praise teams” to keep up with Gen Y's demand for constant positive reinforcement.

Aspen Education group points out that while other generations “believed that as long as no one fired them, their work must be okay . . . Gen Y needs constant praise in the form of emails, awards, celebration balloons and other such tangible recognition of their work or they become anxious.”

What better recognition than a 500-person crowd clapping for you in the middle of Times Square?

The enthusiasm of “Performer’s” virtual crowd even increases with the performer’s movements and includes layered clapping, whistling, hooting and mumbling. Experience it:

Compare “Performer” with the “sound sculpture,” which is so unassuming it can hardly be found. Whereas “Performer” is in the wide open artist’s space in Times Square called Anita’s Way, many people now miss the sound sculpture because Times Square has been built up over it, or because they are on their cellphone or iPod.

When Neuhaus explained his sculpture to the Times, he said: “I wanted a work that wouldn't need indoctrination . . . The whole idea is that people discover it for themselves. They can’t explain it. They take possession of it as their own discovery. They couldn’t do that if it were labeled ‘An Artwork by Max Neuhaus.’ ”

Like Frank, Neuhaus wanted his installation to be about the person who visited it. But unlike the modern artist, Neuhaus wasn’t trying to impose a certain feeling, like affirmation, on his visitors. The sound sculpture will always be, Neuhaus hopes, just what a person makes of it.

By  |  05:58 PM ET, 10/13/2011

Tags:  National, Art, Times Square, Max Neuhaus, Adam Frank, Generation Y

 
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