“It was a time to socialize and look at the stars,” says 24-year-old Ariel Abrahams, describing a recent camping trip. He talks about “the rush of the water from the creek, the chirping of birds,” and the trees standing close around him.
The hitch? Those natural sights and sounds were only in Abrahams’ imagination. His tent was actually pitched atop a Brooklyn warehouse.
The man behind this “camp out,” conceptual artist Thomas Stevenson, calls his collection of wood-framed, canvas tents Bivouac NYC. Bivouac, a word known better among mountaineers than urban denizens, is a French term for a temporary campsite. Participants -- up to 18 at a time -- sleep for a night or two under the stars, their shelters often tucked amid cone-topped water tanks, in the hopes of experiencing the Great Connect by disconnecting.
Now in its second summer, the urban camping project has caught on, enough so that Stevenson has been asked to bring it to Boston, London, and possibly California.
I know what you’re thinking: Camping, sure -- but in the city?
The appeal, aside from not having to “drop trou” in the woods, is the chance to experience urban environments in a new way, Stevenson says. “Even though you’re in the heart of a city, it’s quiet up on the roofs and suddenly people begin to understand what they might be able to do without.”
Stevenson launched Biouvac in the fall of 2011, only days after the Occupy movement emerged. For many people, the appearance of tents in Zuccotti Park, right in the heart of a city, was startling at first, he says. But their eyes adjusted, and Stevenson’s project began to look a little less outlandish -- even fun.
For the past several years, artists around the world have been designing innovative ways people might camp in inner cities, going so far as to reimagine the tent for more urban surrounds. They’re on one edge of a broader movement that is getting city residents back out into nature -- right in their own front yards (or right on their own rooftops, as the case may be).