H U G appears on the bustling city sidewalks of Manhattan in order to address the energetic scars that certain events leave on public spaces. Profound stillness and silence is juxtaposed against the pulsing life of one of the busiest cities in the world. The city is home to many varied lives: from businesswoman to homeless person, from the elderly to the very young. Americans, immigrants and visitors from all over the world encounter the installation at various locations, provoking sudden, subtle interruptions and moments of reflection within the city's usual frantic rhythm.
H U G temporarily redefines eleven different sites submitted by the public. Otherwise neglected and forgotten spaces, such as a homeless shelter hidden behind Port Authority bus terminal, are given new vitality and hope. On a derelict and uninviting section of sidewalk, the peaceful gesture of H U G is embraced and accepted. The installation breaks through psychological barriers associated with public spaces, creating connections to even those people deemed forgotten and dangerous by mainstream society.
In addition to the energetic scars left on our shared public spaces, negative events leave their traces within each of us. Our bodies are receptacles for the memories of painful experiences we encounter, and we carry the burden of these memories with us wherever we go. A second manifestation of H U G heals this tarnished personal space as it flows through Stuyvesant Cove Park on the East side of Manhattan. This version of H U G addresses the body as a mobile home for difficult memories instead of addressing memories' fixed homes in the spaces that surround us.
People from around the world submit their own painful memories, extending the reach of the H U G event. The performers adopt these memories with the hope of healing them regardless of where the memories' owners reside in the world. Concurrently, members of the public physically present at the park are invited to contribute to H U G in a number of ways: by sharing their own memories to be healed, by posting their photos of H U G on the internet, and by hugging a friend or performer as the installation slowly moves through the space. H U G's reach is no longer limited by the physical boundaries of the location where the installation takes place. It reaches as far as the internet and our intentions can take us.
Ed Glassing, a Buddhist monk, reflects on H U G:
“Places, of course, are focal points of energy, and specific places have specific 'memory,' be it positive or negative. As a Buddhist monk I know that negative karmic places and spaces do exist and that they can be purified by incense, by chanting and by ceremony. I loathe equating this performance with a religious ceremony, and yet it seems to be a very appropriate analogy. The psychic trauma of the negative events that happened at these places--42nd street, Macy's, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ground Zero--are somehow healed and purified. . . This performance is a spiritual event.”