A cross post from Monarch Daily!

Pirates and Sirens Invade Tompkins Square Park! Monarch Daily Ventures Through Portal 6 With The Free Art Society

NYC contributors Anthony Salvatore & Heather Zises experience the high seas of 13 Portals.

Pirates invade the unveiling of Portal 6, NYC

Pirates invade the unveiling of Portal 6, NYC

New York. You know, every once and a while I hit a wall of frustration with this city and want to switch coasts, retreat to the south, or smuggle myself to Montreal to try something new.  But then the city does what it does best. It surprises and reinvigorates me. Last night Heather Zises and I attended the unveiling of Portal 6 and I was reminder why I fucking love this city so goddamn much.

For the uninitiated, 13 Portals is an interactive performance art mystery show straight out of a Lewis Carroll set piece, tinted with crystals and chakras. 13 Portals was part performance, part installation, and part game in which the audience became part of a challenge to complete the story.

Conceptualized by American-Brazilian artist duo Nicolina Johnson and Perola Bonfanti of The Free Arts Society, 13 Portals refers to “13 site-specific, hand painted murals in the East Village.” Each one is painted based on a theme, influenced by astrology and numerology and were accompanied by a participatory performance event. All thirteen canvases will eventually transform abandoned doorways into public art.  Not unlike many other neighborhoods in the city, the East Village is undergoing rapid gentrification, therefore the goal of the project is to preserve and maintain an artistic atmosphere.  The artists added virtual elements (QR codes to be scanned at each portal that record the participants’ progress) in hopes of drawing more people into another realm while creating a sense of public intrigue.

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Similar to Happenings from the 60s and 70s, the project also forges connections between strangers that originate from a common, shared experience. Heather Zises and Anthony Salvatore were on the scene and are here to share their impressions with you:

Anthony S:

According to what I’ve read online the event starts at 6:47 on the dot in Tompkins Park. Heather and I decided to meet for a drink at 10 Degrees, a local bar nearby (which offers a 2-1 Happy Hour from NOON TO EIGHT on all drinks!). Once we arrived we briefly discussed the project over a glass of wine and filled in our charming and amicable waitress. When we told her where we were going, she brought over shots of Patron and did one with us.  So, yeah, go here because the staff is awesome. After some wandering through the park we eventually see some people holding white roses and dressed straight out of the 1920s. Putting two and two together we realized we were in the right place…

Heather Z:

Picking up where Anthony left off, attending the unveiling of Portal 6 event reminded me that the East Village still has an edge and that adults still love to dress up in costumes. Anthony and I arrived promptly at 6:47pm to the “Center Circle” in Tompkins Square Park. According to the Facebook site, 220 people had signed up to attend the unveiling, yet we seemed to be the only ones there.  I suppose not knowing who or what to look for was part of the experience. While scanning the crowd for clues, my eyes happily landed on a fellow dressed in jazz age red suspenders and a tilted straw fedora.  I noticed he was holding a white rose. Suddenly a whole group of people appeared carrying white roses who were dressed like they were extras from the set of The Great Gatsby.  I grew confused. I thought we were supposed to be searching for gypsies and magicians?! Anthony provided clarity by informing me that earlier in the day, the 8th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party was being celebrated on Governor’s Island. I guess this meant that everyone, including time travelers, likes viewing portals.

Head Siren

As I was digesting the composition of the scene, women dressed in aquatic toned bodysuits and metallic faces began to slither by like sylphs, not to mention the motley crew of musicians that began to assemble their instruments. Drums began to rattle, accordions began to hum, and feet began to tap.  A beautiful woman resembling Calypso from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies emerged and started to belly dance.  Draped in diaphanous white fabric, this siren commanded undivided attention from the crowd with every switch of her hips.  She placed small piles of incense in a large circle on the ground resulting in plumes of sweet smoke that coiled up around her like snakes as she danced.   As we watched the siren move, she began to lure a few women from the audience to join her in her ritual…and the next thing I knew, I was swishing my hips amongst piles of burning incense. Thankfully, I can now cross off belly dancing at a local park in front of strangers from my bucket list! And that was just the beginning…

Nicolina Johnson and Perola Bonfanti introducing the unveiling of Portal 6, NYC

Nicolina Johnson and Perola Bonfanti introducing the unveiling of Portal 6, NYC

The organizers of the unveiling, artists Nicolina and Perola, stood in front of the musicians and began to quiet the crowd.  Perola adopted a tropical chic costume for the occasion, wearing a grass skirt made of pink tulle, a cerulean blue leotard, and a crown of bright silk flowers.  Her “purse” was a giant whitewashed conch shell, which she later blew into (with impressive lung power) to signal the beginning of the ceremony.  The two artists introduced themselves and spoke briefly about the project. They explained that in order access the unveiling of Portal 6, six members of the audience must successfully obtain one of the six keys that they held up in the air. Just as the rules for the acquisition were being explained, pirates on bikes disguised as boats suddenly invaded the crowd. Men with black hats, eye patches, short pants, and gold chains drunkenly circled around Nicolina and Perola as they waived fake machetes in the air and yelled out the quintessential “Arrrgh!” And in true pirate form, they stole all six keys from the artists and cycled away to the street. A curious mixture of laughter and bewilderment swept over the crowd.  What now?

Sirens Dancing to lure Pirates

Sirens Dancing to lure Pirates

We were told to search for six hidden sirens in the park.   Each had a key and our mission was to give them a white rose and escort them safely back to the center of the park. Anthony and I quickly grabbed white roses from a woman holding a bouquet and off we went in search of the sirens’ song. Despite our bloodhound efforts, we were unsuccessful in locating any of the women.  By the time we circled back to the center of the park, the same group of serpentine-looking women we saw earlier had gathered and were starting to dance and sing.  The head siren, who I had danced with before, was also there, accepting roses and keys. The green and blue sirens then broke out into an extended version of Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris & Gillian Welch, a popular track from the Coen Brother’s film O Brother Where Art Thou? As one might hope and expect, the pirates eventually heard the irresistible song of the sirens and were lured back to the scene. One by one, each pirate was seduced and succumbed to a temporary spell of slumber. Order (seemingly) had been restored and now it was time to head over to the unveiling of Portal 6…

Sirens casting spells over the Pirates, NYC

Sirens casting spells over the Pirates, NYC

The crowd followed the pirates and sirens over to Avenue A between East 6th and East 7th Streets.  A rectangular sheet of brown paper was taped over a doorway that was marked with the 13 Portals circular logo and the estimated time of the unveiling (7:30pm).  The musicians reassembled and began to play. The sirens began to dance.  The head siren reappeared. Nicolina and Perola spoke again and explained that in order to unveil the portal, the six people who found the keys must present a pearl to the head siren (apparently these were exchanged from siren to the key finders earlier).  One by one, each key holder stepped up, danced with the head siren, and gifted her a pearl.  After much anticipation and acrobatics, the portal was finally unveiled! Portal 6 depicted a dark skinned woman standing in a large shell, surrounded by beads and jellyfish, like a cosmic Botticelli. All in all, I enjoyed my experience and have restored my faith in the burgeoning art scene in downtown New York!

Location of Portal 6, Avenue A, East Village NYC

Location of Portal 6, Avenue A, East Village NYC

Portal 6!

Sirens celebrating the unveiling of Portal 6

Sirens celebrating the unveiling of Portal 6