It all started in a rented U-Haul truck. For three summers, partners George Cooper and Ryan Kovolak, both architects and self-described “frustrated high designers” rented a truck, slapped their sign on it, and drove the streets of Lower Manhattan seeking out people to perform in front of their video cameras. It was karaoke, it was art, it was fun.
As of last week, the project/business/art experiment they call Oofu has found a more permanent home — and an even wider range of possibilities — on the LES.
“It’s the kind of thing that can only happen in New York, and there’s no better neighborhood for it than this one,” says Cooper, who lives nearby on Forsyth Street and maintains an office for his other business, Koop Architecture + Media, on Chrystie Street. “We are looking to make new content, to just throw everything out, and make something different.”
“What we’re really trying to do is engage the street,” Cooper says, standing in his new storefront space, whose back wall and most of the floor are painted green, for the ease of imposing video graphics. “What is a green screen anyway? It’s a placelessness, it’s loss of reality. The green screen becomes activated by the streetscape outside.”
The busy block on Stanton between Orchard and Ludlow provides plenty of material for the video camera propped in the window. Oofu aims to blur the lines between the street outside and its stage inside, where a variety of performances are starting to fill up its calendar. To start with, there’s karaoke, usually at night. Musical acts playing Arlene’s Grocery across the street and Pianos around the corner are coming in to play; poets, performance artists and comedians are signing up to use the space for practice and performances. Oofu charges $40 for 10-minute sessions, and provides a DVD of each performance.
Eventually, Cooper and Kovolak want to provide enough original programming to mimic an old-fashioned network television channel, but via internet streaming. They’ve issued an open call for anyone who wants to be on camera, especially “artists, writers, producers, comedians, actors, directors, musicians and exhibitionists.”
“Everything you have been talking about doing, here is your chance to do it,” the open call exhorts.
And in case you’re wondering about the name of the business, it draws its double-Os from Cooper’s last name, and the rest of it – just because.
“It’s a nice four-letter word, it sounds good, and it’s got room to grow,” Cooper said.