The Pedestrian Project

Yvette Gets Dressed as a Ped - May 1997

The Pedestrian Project - What is it?

Yvette Helin’s Pedestrian Project is an ongoing performance work created in New York City in 1990. The project consists of several performers wearing entirely black custom-made costumes that are modeled after the generic graphic images of people used on many types of signage. The Pedestrian characters are silent.

Earth Day New York - 1992- The Pedestrians Clean New York. New York Public Library, 5th Avenue and 41st Streets. Photo: Andrew Listfield

The inspiration for the project’s creation is diverse. Of course, the signs are the main inspiration. Where are the people that look like that? Oh! here they are! The figures on those signs however began to have more meaning as they came to life. At times they can be a comment on our very busy lives, passing ships in the night, always moving on, missing so much on the way to our important meetings. The characters can also become a very humorous look at ourselves, a visual comedy. Sometimes they are more like silent poems, creating subtle visual messages for onlookers. The performances can also portray a sculptural scene, a living work of art. Often the works are improvisational, and the characters are directed by the area they are in, conversations and discussions the performing pedestrian group has before, after, and during the works.

Always wanting to make public art, Yvette created the pedestrians as an answer to a strong desire of hers to make artwork in the public arena and be free from the limitations of public sculptural installations, allowing her to create live works that could move and flow with the surrounding people and constantly changing environments.

The Peds explore the Williamsburg Brooklyn Waterfront in 1997. Now this area is the home of the East River State Park. Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer c. 1997

Yvette’s skills as a costume designer play an important part in the works. All the costumes are custom made by her costume studio which she owns and operates in New York. The craftsmanship in the costumes must be very precise in order for the characters to speak beyond the fact that they are people in a costume. The intention is to forget that this is a person in a costume, and become lost in the many meanings that the pedestrian characters suggest.

For Yvette, performing as a ‘Ped‘ is an experience she finds meditative and freeing. Being no one and everyone at the same time, a Pedestrian Character can be many things and take on multiple meanings, depending upon where they are and what they are doing. Being a character provides a very interesting place to express inner ideas and complex feelings that otherwise do not have a suitable outlet.

Coney Island Beach, New York 1997. Photo c. Gabe Kirchheimer 1997.

The project has performed internationally in art festivals and special events, with regular appearances in their home city of New York. The Peds have been seen everywhere from Wall Street to Main Street, from MTV music videos to the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City to the High Museum in Atlanta. Sponsors and supporters include The Prague Quadrennial, The Museum of Modern Art New York, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The New York Times, Belmont Park, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Halloween Parade, Atlanta Arts Festival, Denver Musicfest, Waves Festival in Denmark, ACC Galerie in Weimar, Ron Feldman Fine Arts Inc, Earth Day New York, Warner Brothers, P.S. 122, Franklin Furnace Archives, Detroit Arts Festival, Charles Jourdan, The Limilight, Soho Arts Festival, Utah Arts Festival, University of Delaware.

Ped Self looks good in front of crazy graffitti wall in Williamsburg on July 19th, 2008. Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer, c.2008

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