Take a Step Into Urban Play with Illustreet

Above: Video still from Illustreet at FIGMENT Oakland 2015. Click for the video! 

Outdoor events like Coachella,Burning Man, and Lightning in a Bottle have attracted increasingly massive, energetic crowds, drawn by music, community, and art. Each event centers around an escape from our fast-paced, urban lives, allowing us to indulge in a sort of urban play. The Coachella and Lighting in a Bottle festivals both feature big-name musical acts as their main draw, while at the Burning Man festival, art and community-building are the main course, while music shows are a close complement. Together, art and participatory community can shift our perspectives, enabling us to indulge the more childlike impulses of play, fun, and experience for its own sake. For FIGMENT artist Aitan Mizrahi, creator of Illustreet, “all it took was a dry erase board [and] a timer.”

We caught up with Mizrahi this week for a conversation about how Illustreet was presented at FIGMENT Oakland, and how interactive art encourages participants to leave their daily stress behind.

“It’s an easy game to bring to public spaces,” Mizrahi explained. His original project gathers people to participate in an “interactive picture game,” where people interact with “free-standing, full-sized chalkboard, and draw pictures of words for others to guess.”

If this reminds you of a game of charades, you’re right! Illustreet is very similar, but instead of acting or pantomiming a word, you have to draw it out on a whiteboard. As people participate and allow themselves to have fun without worrying about how artistic their creations are, then public space becomes a conduit for play. “It’s a shift in reality for a moment,” Mizrahi notes.

That’s the real purpose of his project—encouraging people to look beyond their self-consciousness and their daily stresses, and truly engage with their environment. “It’s easy to walk around with your head down, and not engage with the community.”

A chalkboard next to brick walls seems attract and inspire curiosity. For attendees to see something out of the ordinary, they must allow themselves to “really see it,” instead of just walking past. Mizrahi explains, “You have to ask, ‘why are we here?’”

Mizrahi brought his interactive and engaging outdoor game to 2015’s annual FIGMENT Project Oakland event. His project required very few pieces to set up. It was “really well positioned, spatially, at FIGMENT… definitely not something you’d expect in the middle of the park.” Interestingly, anything can happen in a park, from dancing robots to live music to maker festivals. FIGMENT encourages artists and casual appreciators to bring their wonder and curiosity for a day of crafts, music, art, games, costumes, activities, and workshops.


Above: Video still from Illustreet at FIGMENT Oakland 2015. Click for the video!

“For my project, you push start on the timer, [and] look at the word,” and as someone begins drawing it on the whiteboard, “everyone’s yelling out what they think the word is.” A little spontaneous chaos is what makes the game exciting, especially given that once the timer’s up, it’s up. For Mizrahi, his game and its focus on urban play is a purposeful departure from the more exclusive and esoteric character of urban art; after all, urban art “tends to lean more toward the ‘art’ rather than the interactive.”

By being accessible—and remaining free—FIGMENT is able to reach “all levels, ages, [and] people,” as Mizrahi himself described. “I thought FIGMENT was great, I was really happy to be there,” he said. Creating Illustreet helped Mizrahi reach out to people within the community who haven’t ever experienced anything resembling urban play.

Besides Coachella, Burning Man, and other well-known mainstream events, the culture of participation and interactivity is everywhere at festivals closer to home, like Come Out & Play San Francisco and, of course, FIGMENT! With Illustreet, artists like Mizrahi remind us how easy it is to channel our inner creativity and be artistic—and involve our friends and family in some heartwarming silliness and laughter while we’re at it. Sometimes, all we need is a whiteboard and a timer to engage in unique and playful experiences.

Did you play with Illustreet at FIGMENT? Let us know in the comments.

Want to find more from Illustreet? Here's Illustreet on YouTube and here they are on Facebook!

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