As I start on the walking tour/audio installation Current in Zuccotti Park, a delivery bike races past me with a lit-up front tire that digitally flashes repeatedly “NYC is back.”
Is it? Did it ever go away?
New York City did not cease to exist, but it has been changed.
This is, in a way, exactly the point of New York and something Current is concerned with exploring. The show focuses on the many sedimentary layers of New York’s identity and how it has been shaped, molded, reframed, and changed over time. And with it how we have too.
If we’re in a moment of reflection on what this city means to us and how we relate to it after a traumatic 15 months, this show provides a quiet meditation on those questions as we work through this tender moment in our healing.
Lower Manhattan is home to 1000 New Yorks that came before—from an indigenous community to a colonial fortification to a brief stint as national capital to the present metropolis with scaffolding seemingly on every block, signifying constant revision.
New York, in perpetual flux, becomes something different to different people. A corner that holds someone’s happiest memory is, for sure, somewhere someone else has publicly cried. There is no one New York. It is a multiverse and this show tries to give us a glimpse of that array of parallel cities all captured in a few blocks.
Current was created by Annie Saunders along with collaborators Andrew Schneider, Jackie! Zhou and One Thousand Birds, and OpenEndedGroup. It is a time-triggered show which is meant to create moments of kismet and synchronicity for the participant as they walk the guided path laid out by the artists through the audio.
It’s free and all you need is a smartphone and headphones. It runs for one hour every 30 minutes from 5:30pm to 8:30pm through October 1.
The text of the show reflects on the history of the area, efforts at “urban renewal,” maps, art, the human body, natural destruction, and evolving topographies. But it is also interested in how we have processed and adapted to places, events, and change.
Just in my time in New York, lower Manhattan has been the epicenter of multiple traumas. So, it feels fitting that this walk is my first theatrical event outside my apartment in 15 months. We’re still processing the most recent trauma and this show is a gentle reintroduction to theater. It asks you to be present and aware as the artists create a soundscape around you and you follow along.
Is that blasting car stereo happening now or an echo from this spot on another day in your headphones? Are the clip-clop of feet on the pavement yours or the artists? As you dash across an intersection to catch a light, is that your breathing or theirs?
The recording is primarily Saunders and Schneider leading you on a route that winds through the financial district. They fill the narrative with bits of art history, New York history, and personal history. Schneider talks about the time his apartment building in Brooklyn “pancaked.” He says of that collapse, “It wasn’t emotional. But it was destabilizing.”
The show invites a kind of intimacy. With binaural sound crafting a cityscape within the city in your ears, and these voices telling you about themselves, guiding you where to go, and suggesting things for you to do, it is meant to be personal.
While it takes on a kind of tour guide format, with their footsteps setting the cadence, it still conjures a conversation between the audience, these artists, and the city around you.
I spent 8 years of my life working near Wall Street and it’s been 8 years since I left that job. As I take this walk, I’m slightly haunted by my old life and a version of myself I hardly recognize anymore. These streets are familiar and full of memories. But with the passage of time, it is also strange–a recollection overlaid with something new and unfamiliar. Current works in the same way to bring the known together with the unknown.
At some point, I catch a glowing orange light on the horizon, and think to myself it must be sunset bouncing off a glass building only to realize it’s an LED light display in a new shiny shop window giving the same kind of glow.
The show calls forth these kinds of echoes and observations. It asks us to open our eyes to what is around us and consider the past (and the many permutations of the past), present, and future. It also presents lives we have not lived and perspectives that may not be our own. It may be both emotional and destabilizing.
The show wants us to consider how place impacts us and how we, in turn, change it.
Waterways became streets in lower Manhattan. Seashores were moved. Vistas were created. Shadows were cast. Buildings were erected, collapsed, and were rebuilt. Communities were formed and were destroyed. Bodies lay buried beneath. Time marched on.
This is not about buildings or spaces in the abstract, but about sitting on a bench and hearing the word slave auction as it relates to the space you are occupying now. Or to consider that the Lenape ancestors are still here to greet their kinsmen.
The haunting I felt of my past self was only one of many communions with ghosts on this walk.
For those of us not quite ready for indoor theater, Current eases us back into the frame of mind for the formality of performance. The show runs several times a night at set start times and you cannot stop or pause the audio as it goes. Yet, it builds in time for you to sit and watch, or scurry across the street if you’ve taken a wrong turn. As you are following the prompts and observing what is expected, it leaves room for the surprising.
I found myself snapping pictures as I walked along. A beautiful sunset. Some rain-soaked flowers. I watched teenagers taking photos in their prom dresses as they lined up to enter the prom venue.
I thought about the school year they had just had and how much they deserved this party. And if I had not left my house and come to this point, on this day, on this path created by these artists for me, I would not have seen such a celebration.
Tomorrow, an entirely different New York awaits another listener.