Person-Free Hugs at Nuit Blanche London


“If you’ve ever wished your friend Happy Birthday on Facebook instead of sending a card, then you’ve already given a Person-Free Hug. Although we can’t be everywhere at once, we’d like you to have a free hug on our behalf. Nuit Blanchers who interact with the piece by posting it to Instagram will be participating at a level of irony only Alanis Morrisette has managed to achieve thus far. #PersonFreeHugs”

This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of attending and submitting 4 interactive installations to Nuit Blanche London. My partner (both romantically and artistically) Danny Fast and I created Person-Free Hugs as a light hearted commentary on the way people interact with each other online. Our piece consisted of 4 items (a tv, a lamp, a chair, and a tree) wearing a large FREE HUGS sign and outstretched arms and hands, evenly spaced out along Dundas Street. A parody of one of the first viral videos ever, the Free Hugs Campaign, our installations encouraged Nuit Blanche participants to receive a hug on our behalf, via a regular household object. The resulting image of a person hugging a chair or a lamp humorously represents our increasing need for positive reinforcement via online interactions (i.e. likes on Instagram, comments on Facebook, or retweets on Twitter).

We encouraged participants to share photos of themselves with the installations with the hashtag #PersonFreeHugs, and were excited to watch the results pour in. Many people took advantage of our “Ideal Instagram Spots” by posting #personfreehugs photos to instagram, and others tweeted out photos and comments.

However, my favourite part of the night was watching people interact with the installations. People laughing at the absurdity of it. People hugging without question. Many people caught the “Tree Hugger” reference. One kid high-fived the TV so enthusiastically that its hand fell off. Towards the end of the night interactions with the TV in particular became more rowdy than adorable, but it was all part of the experience.

While putting the final touches on the Free Hugs TV, a man laughed and jokingly said, “a TV can’t love you back!” I replied “It can now!”

I think that final interaction sums up nighttime open street art festivals perfectly. All of the exhibits at Nuit Blanche London took some element of the everyday, made it extraordinary, and put it on the street for thousands of people to participate with. Video games controlled by huge rollers and projected onto a building, a time-warp school bus, photographs being developed in a tiny tent darkroom, a household lamp offering you a free hug. The Nuit Blanche experience is one of bizarre excitement and organized chaos. I am so glad to have been a part of it, and I can’t wait till next year.

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