By James King
In my hometown, Halloween took the streets hostage as roaming packs of rival eggers, dressed in all-black, hid behind buildings and trees and waited for the treaters they could rain eggs down upon like mortar fire. The main street was as empty as a spaghetti western-hell, even the cops kept their distance. In a town of 10,000, this ain’t that hard-but when you reach a city of three million, it becomes a little more difficult.
Thankfully, the project NewMindSpace, consisting of Lori Kufner and Kevin Bracken, is on a mission to turn Toronto into the playground it should be. Massive urban games and spontaneous public transit party hijackings are just some of the ideas that have spread through the city via word of mouth and blogging communities.
The force behind these activities is a “reclaim the streets” ideology, Bracken explains. The infectious nature of corporate advertising has transformed city streets, walls and buildings into spaces to consume in rather than live in. NewMindSpace’s massive events attempt to recast that bland image of the city.
The first bit of was actually “more of an attempt at installation art,” says Bracken. Inspired by The Gates, the Central Park installation by Christo and Jean-Claude, Kevin and Lori set out with 2000 eggs for a huge Easter-egg hunt. With this simple yet massive scavenger hunt, they caught on to the city’s potential to host these large-scale games.
Newmindspace got involved, inevitably, with the Toronto Public Space Committee, whose intention is to protect the city’s common spaces from “commercial influence and privitisation.” NewMindSpace is sort of the “play” wing of this mission statement-they use games to reclaim the streets.
The pair has put on giant subway and streetcar parties, games of capture-the-flag and the highly-publicised Dundas Square pillow fight. While some of the ideas are unique, the global networks of city-space games have also inspired some of the events. Collectives such as Improv Everywhere (New York City), Mobile Clubbing (London, UK) and the Cacophony Society (various cities) have created similar methods of reclaiming the streets through play.
Bracken and Kufner follow the maxim of “it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Surprisingly, the cops have usually been absent from the events (and even participated in the Brooklyn edition of the pillow-fight). Of course, informing the authorities ahead of time would kind of neuter their effect. Surprise pillow-attacks are much more effective.
“We love to see people becoming the authors of their own environment, instead of watching it on a television screen” says Bracken. Hearing that makes me want to grab an egg carton and head down to Queen Street West (dressed in all-black of course).
Look for these euphoric urban events at www.newmindspace.com
Not in Toronto? Check out these websites for similarly subversive play dates in public space:
www.improveverywhere.com, www.mobile-clubbing.com, www.cacophony.org