In-Flight Movie: Liz Magic Laser in Times Square


In a week that started with the discovery of a certain fugitive in Pakistan, artist Liz Magic Laser’s performance, Flight, which engages pursuit and violence, seemed timely. Staged twice in Times Square on Tuesday (when A.i.A. saw it), it will be performed several times Friday and Saturday.

Presented by Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, the 40-minute piece had six actors (Nic Grelli, Elizabeth Hodur, Liz Micek, Michael Wiener, Max Woertendyke and Lia Woertendyke) re-enact cinematic chase scenes, all involving stairs, on the bleacher-like steps that form the roof of the Times Square TKTS booth.


Laser served as director of the piece, as well as, on Tuesday, documenting the performance as a photographer. Sometimes all six actors, sometimes fewer, depending on the requirements of the scene, ran after each other and camped the scenes’ dialogue. They sometimes engaged with bystanders, whether appealing for help or warning of danger (“Did a man come through here?” “There’s a man in a blue topcoat back there, waving a gun and screaming!”).

Sources span canonical films like Battleship Potemkin and The Wizard of Oz, and cheesier recent flicks such as National Treasure and Final Destination 4. Screams for help, bruising falls, mock fistfights and even murders ensue as the actors weave their way through the crowd. The piece aims to transpose imaginary drama into public space, implicating the audience as participants.

Though a handout listed the 23 movies mined for the piece, part of its entertainment value is in recognizing iconic bits like Jack Nicholson’s reassurance-wrapped-in-threat from The Shining: “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m just gonna bash your brains in! I’m gonna bash them right the fuck in!” At moments, too, the actors departed from the script to ad-lib interactions with audience members, as when one performer borrowed a paper McDonald’s bag from a viewer to serve as a prop.

On Tuesday, a handful of photographers and videographers tailed the performers as they pursued each other through a crowd of art-world viewers as well as unsuspecting tourists. Claire, a visitor from Australia, was caught unawares, wrapped up in a book as actors repeatedly brushed against her. One actress even knocked over her coffee in the course of hand-to-hand combat with a fellow actor. “I felt bad,” Claire said afterward, “because she was lying in it. She knocked it over and then mopped it up with her arse.”

The piece debuted on the stairs of MoMA PS1 in 2010. “This time was more technical,” the statuesque Hodur told A.i.A. after Tuesday’s performance. An excellent screamer (which she credits to voice training), the actress explained that she and her colleagues worked with a choreographer, and even focused on camera angles. When a viewer commented on the kneepads visible under her tights, Hodur said, “We’re all wearing them. When we fell, we really fell!”

“I was surprised that the crowd was so quiet,” said the New York-based Laser, a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program and the Whitney’s Independent Study Program. “When we rehearsed it here, people would heckle, and teenagers would mimic the actors and chase them around. The cops came twice, and once they shut down our rehearsal and kicked us out.” Compared to Tuesday’s respectful noontime crowd, the weekend performances promise to be far more raucous. “Rowdy reactions are good in my book,” the artist said.