Figments of Their Imagination: An Island of Wacky and Inventive Fun

In a performance choreographed by Shandoah Goldman, women in painted body suits and “lantern-inspired” dresses took on the role of their Chinese zodiac animals and were matched in a “dating game” with men recruited from the audience. The piece, said Goldman, plays with the farce of the zodiac and compatibility “and this idea of happily ever afters in fairy tales.” Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jul. 01, 2013

Smartly attired in heels, black dress and red rubber nose, Barbara Ann Michaels, aka The Jester of the Peace (“I’m a legal wedding officiant and I’m also a clown”), was a welcoming presence on Governors Island one morning last month. Already she had married a woman to her sore ankle in hopes that it would feel better. And, if today were to be anything like her appearance on the island the previous season, she had plenty more “weddings” to look forward to. 

“Last year I married someone to a tree, to a can of soda, I married families to each other,” she said. “I married co-workers and people who never met before.”

“Somebody asked me to do a self-marriage later today,” she added. “I’m sure I'll do a number of those.” Street performance weddings, giant soap-bubble catching, a solar-powered merry-go-round, a “post-apocalyptic” world of electronic waste.

Such was the variety of offerings at the seventh annual Figment, where 250 interactive acts and installations, spread out over the island’s lawns and walkways, drew 20,000 visitors over the weekend of June 8 and 9. “Blessings, blessings upon you,” a robed man who identified himself as PeacockFeatherBlessings said through a mask adorned with butterfly stickers.

With one gentle hand on his blessee’s shoulder and the other tapping him with colorful feathers, he continued, “You’re a good person because you exist.

There’s nothing left to prove, nothing.” What Ben Schultz and Suzanne Karpinski, both MFA drama student  dressed as “Giving Trees” (inspired by Shel Silverstein’s children’s book) wanted to prove was that giving could be as simple as a cartwheel, a hug or a song.

“It’s learning to appreciate and value things you have to offer,” said Karpinski, whose bodysuit sprouted twigs and leaves and had the words “Make seeds not war” written on her abdomen.

Figment, now in nine cities, is the invention of David Koren, who is driven to show art that is free and participatory. “It’s profoundly important,” he said, “that people en gage with each other in a way that’s about giving and sharing and collaboration, not just about ‘I have this thing to sell you, do you want to buy it.’”

Instead, he added, Figment is the creative person’s headiest dream. “It’s about, if you could do anything, what would you do today.”

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