Founded in 2007 and co-produced by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), the Crossing the Line festival [through Oct. 14] this year features 18 international artists who extend the boundaries of various art forms—theater, dance, performance, visual art and music. FIAF's New York artistic director, Lili Chopra, produced the first edition of the annual festival, and this time co-organized the program with FIAF curator Simon Dove, and Bard College performance chair Gideon Lester.

During the opening night's reception on Sept. 14 at FIAF's 60th St. lounge, guests politely mingled over cocktails. In the next room, walls pulsed with an installation by Paris-based Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, which featured shadowy figures of musicians that seemed to sprout up out of sound.

Late in the evening, a scruffy man seemed to storm the room, lugging heavy materials and followed by a man recording him. This unannounced entertainment was Bel Borba, a participating artist who for the last 35 years has transformed locations in his native Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, with ephemeral untitled mosaics, sculptures and installations. Recently, he has been working with videographer Burt Sun on a series of short episodes posted intermittently on FIAF's website. The project, documenting the artist's playful hijinks in New York, is complemented by Sun's 2012 documentary (produced with and Andre Costantini), Bel Borba Aqui, which screened last week at FIAF.

During his time in New York for Crossing the Line, Borba has been making installations-with a spontaneous spirit that belies the organization's planning—on Roosevelt Island and in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Queens, and Times Square. He's covered industrial buildings in brick-red paint with delicate white silhouettes of what appear to be trees and the sun, painted bright green windows on drab warehouse walls, and crafted tiny colorful figurines for an antique shop in need of a window display. Much of Borba's work is figurative. Says Dove, "He's putting a human face on derelict buildings, playing with the possibility of us looking at the city as a friendly human face rather than a post-industrial wasteland."

"My goal is to kidnap just for a few seconds people's attention," the artist said. "I go out and transform garbage into art. I want to make people think about what kind of art we should be making now."

Later on opening night, composer-musician Bill Frisell, accompanied by his Beautiful Dreams violin-and-drum ensemble, treated the audience to a whimsical interpretation of the Beatles' classic "Strawberry Fields" and the Beach Boys' "Little Surfer Girl" with dramatic tempos, pauses and dissonance.

The festival endeavors to support emerging artists through production funding and residencies. Such assistance-including three 10-day visits to New York over a 12-month period-enabled Paris-based artist Joris Lacoste to develop his new work, 4 Prepared Dreams, a performance that explores hypnosis as a form of creative experience.

Simon described the piece as "a new way for the artist to work and a completely new notion of what constitutes performance."


Bel Borba Aqui will screen Oct. 3 at Film Forum in New York.
Photo: Bel Borba