Shining a Light in Times Square

B&W Silhouette of a boy holding a toy gun
B&W Silhouette of a boy holding a toy gun

Times Square on a Friday night.  Throngs of tourists look up at the lights while annoyed New Yorkers wish they would get out of the way so they can catch their train. The smell of roasting nuts swirled through the air as disaffected newstand employees watch the masses plow through the stand up comedians that asked if they liked to laugh -- cause if they did -- man did they have a show for them! Geandy Pavón, Cuban-American artist, quietly set up his projector and laptop as a friend filmed his every move. In the middle of and ocean of billboards, advertisements and flashing bulbs, he's had something to say. And friday night was the time to say it.

Daniel's Got A Gun

Pavón had chosen his spot to start a conversation about America's short sighted obsession with guns: the exterior of the Best Buy theater on the corner of 44th & 8th Avenue. Within seconds a projection 'Daniel' an eleven year old, plaintively looked out as he slowly put a gun to his head. A security guard quickly crossed the street and told Pavón not to project it onto his building. To chose another building. Ironic considering that what companies have plastered Times Square with is much bloodier, misogynistic and violent than Pavón's projection.

Within minutes cops swarm the pair telling them not to stop filming and stop the projection. Pavón explained that he's not breaking any laws. He's projecting light which is not a crime. The police know they couldn't legally shut him down, so they resorted to taking an aggressive posture hoping to intimidate the artist.

The looped film played out as Pavón answered passerby's questions. People were rightly disturbed by the projection but like most Americans when it comes to they topic of gun control, they wanted to engage with it. They called out 'Don't do it' as the kid puts the gun to his head. They handed Pavón business cards and asked him questions about the work. After seeing this upsetting piece and thought provoking work, I wanted some answers of my own.

Why did you choose Times Square for this protest?

GEANDY PAVON: Times Square is an amplification of the American utopia, the scenery in which desire can be perceived through illusion. But what would happen if desire and illusion unfolds as a ghostly image of reality? This place contains for me that baroque idea of the world theater; the scenery is there for the great masquerade, the never-ending carnival of fantasy and light. I consider Times Square the perfect context for my work, precisely because the image of the child with a gun is the same as that of a skull in a baroque still life painting (Vanitas). The possibility of tragedy and death that occupy a place only for a moment, in the middle of the feast.

How did you come up with the idea for this video?

GP: This work is part of a series of public interventions in which for a short period of time I transform a particular place into something completely different from its original state. Even though this particular piece stands by itself, it can be considered a sequence of my previous "Nemesis."

Nemesis was the Greek spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to Hubris (arrogance and abuse of power) I chose this concept to give name to a project that consists of turning government diplomatic buildings as screens for the portraits of its political victims. But if the "Nemesis" project imposes the portrait of victims on government's diplomatic walls as a reminder of a persecutory justice, this particular piece "Vanitas" does it as a memento mori, a reminder of the possibility of tragedy and death in the very place of alienation and escape. The target for this street intervention is not a particular subject, but society as a whole.

How do you think your piece moves the conversation forward?

GP: This piece is part of a greater debate that is taking place in America about gun ownership and violence. With this work I hope to contribute to activate a meaningful conversation, a deeper analysis of us as a society. It is a difficult task to accomplish as an artist. I'm taking the risk of being perceived as a political propagandist, when the intention is to set the ground for a broader discussion It seems that cruelty and violence has become a cultural trend, an aesthetic phenomenon. I think it's important to ask ourselves if the fact that something has deep cultural roots and legal sustenance its enough to prevent us from questioning its value.

After Geandy Pavón left, I made my way to the F train. I looked up as I crossed the busy intersection and saw the Iron Man 3 projection advertisement blanketing Toys R US. I wondered if the people that most needed to see Daniel's Got a Gun saw it and if they got that even though super hero movies make us feel indestrucible, we're not actually made iron but of tender and vulnerable flesh.

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