I once saw an elephant walk through midtown Manhattan in the middle of the night.
Standing waiting to cross the street, I looked up at the traffic signal, then down at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel where cars generally came careening out. It was quiet for once. Then the elephant walked out, followed by another elephant, and these followed by a man with a shovel and a bucket on wheels.
The cars heading south were still, headlights trained on the passing parade. The mouth of the tunnel, ordinarily a dull roar, was an illuminated processional, its gritty surfaces flooded with a golden glow. New York City pedestrians, a breed geared towards determined impatience stood obediently at their curbside posts to let the elephants and company pass by. It is difficult to maintain an air of studied disinterest when elephants walk by.
Around me, were a number of other faces similarly locked in astonishment. It was honestly hard to tell who was in on it–where the show started and ended really was blurred with the real places of the city. Were the trucks with their headlights on coincidentally illuminating the tunnel or were they part of the procession? A few minutes later, the light went green, cars and pedestrians who had paused continued back into the city streets filled with the memory of this unexpected occurrence. For those moments, the streets I walked routinely had been host to a spectacle that was anything but routine, casting that part of the city and those inhabitants into a collective gathering worthy of celebration. That this was an ordinary night (i.e., not a holiday) made the event substantial beyond the instance. Submitting to this street sighting offered alternatives to daily reality through changes in individual relationships to the city and to each other, offering everyone present a liberation from routine.
This sighting, for me, provoked a quest for seeking out and concocting events with an air of the unexpected, and the out of place.
Each of these components–the elephant procession, the coincidental gathering of people in the city, the man with the bucket–holds aspirations for me in creating unexpected events. Using seemingly utilitarian objects and tasks (the man with the bucket) alongside eccentric objects (the elephant) in everyday places these events offer interruptions as a way to build social situations, and to prompt questions of what might be possible.
I like to think that my work could be someone else’s elephant.
Selected media for EverydayPlaces/Nick Tobier
Nick Tobier on Tonight at TheCAID
Toronto Streetcar Project in The National Post of Canada
Field of Our Dreams in Fuse Magazine
Public Television profile
Nick Tobier in Why?