Francis Palazzolo’s The SelfOthering Shift Experiments is a participatory art project that takes place in Times Square. In these experiments Palazzolo engages passersby in the formation art by sharing intimate conversation and collaborative portraiture. With this combined aesthetic, collaborators alter object and exchange values towards social bonds at the center of Capitalism. Hence, these encounters are a highly visible model of reducing social alienation.
At its’ core, Palazzolo’s role is to shift passersby into collaborators. This mode of engagement entails considerable multi-tasking: amiable confidence to reach out, focus to block-out the swirling chaos, presence to slow down the fast-paced environment to an intimate encounter, concentration and adroit dexterity to draw likenesses, patience to listen, empathy to inquire and care about another’s point of view, and personal reflection to negotiate shared meaning.
Below is an account of the experiments, which began in the summer of 2016 and continue to the present. The discourse focuses on the development of contextual relationships. The brief analysis includes an alternative version that is running concurrently and the premise for The Self-Othering Experiments.
Palazzolo situated the experiments in different parts of Times Square to learn from each location and tailor his practice to the challenging conditions. He started out on the sidewalk of 42nd Street between 7th & 8th Avenues. Here, Palazzolo gained knowledge about the Times Square district and moved the experiments to the main plaza to increase the visibility. Eventually, Palazzolo relocated to the corner of 45th and Broadway to focus the lens of the experiments. Collaborating in the glow of the Nasdaq Showroom highlights the urgency of social bonding.
The following is a brief sketch of Palazzolo’s interpersonal methods. From the very beginning, the core elements were in place. Up front Palazzolo explains to passersby that the drawings are free. Once engaged, talking elicits drawing, which in turn solidifies the conversation. As Palazzolo and his collaborator get attuned to one another the person drawing may shift. Stories, along with a pad of paper and drawing supplies go back and forth. Depending on the comfort of the collaborator, participation includes making choices, filling-in, and/or leading the artwork.
During each encounter, Palazzolo experiments with different ways to negotiate foot traffic, reach-out to passersby, and arrange his practice to improve his relationship with collaborators. Sitting down to talk and draw was his first approach. He used a cart, which held art supplies, collapsible chairs and signage, to engage passersby. On the prior web page, videos document these experiments, which include changing time of day, location and season.
At the end of 2017, Palazzolo’s interactions with NYC police officers made the boundaries of the project clear: accessories are not allowed in the center of the Times Square Plaza, particularly during rush hour and at high volume spots. By early 2018, Palazzolo adapted his practice: stand face-to-face; pad in hand; supplies in pocket; no accessories on the ground; no signage; no donations; no need for permits. He viewed these regulations not as limitations, but as permission to be lighter, freer, more fluid, and flexible in his relationships.
Palazzolo honed his improvisational skills and open disposition by working for over 30 years as an artist-in-residence in NYC with people confronting low socio-economic conditions. Self-Othering Transitions, a version of The SelfOthering Shift Experiments, is part of his current artist-in-residency with residents at a safe haven and drop-in shelter in the Bronx. This residency project is funded by a NYCDOH Enhancement Grant.
The premise for The SelfOthering Shift Experiments coagulated in 2016, while Palazzolo was organizing, curating and facilitating a series of participatory art shows at the Open Source Gallery in Brooklyn. What started out as a mixture of good communication techniques and the “Exquisite Corpse” Surrealist game, turned into the initial experiment of sharing intimate conversations and collaborating to make a portrait. From the onset, collaborators were blurring the definition of dialogical art and object-based art.