Don’t Forget To Bring An Enormous Towel

07.09.12 Andy Cush

I don’t own a beach towel. When my girlfriend and I made the trek out the South Shore’s Long Beach this weekend, we just brought a big bedsheet with us to lay on. It was nice! There was plenty of room on the sheet and the weather was perfect; we napped and ate burritos and played Temple Run on her Kindle Fire.

Had we waited until later in the summer and gone to Rockaway Beach, though, we might have had a much more “communally transcendent” experience. That’s because August 11, Miami-based artist Misael Soto is bringing an enormous homemade beach towel to the Rockaways as the final stop on his latest project’s East Coast tour. The idea behind the piece is to bring people who’d normally enjoy the beach in relative isolation together as one big communal party.

“I like to present a small hurdle for people to jump across,” Soto says. “Once they…decide to walk on the towel, they lower their guard and open up to newness and interaction.” The piece is part of a series of works that focus on encouraging people to reconsider what Soto calls “alienating behaviors,” a la beachin’ it alone.

“Of course, it’s definitely easier to get participants once others have already joined,” Soto tells me. “The last time I took the towel out there were hundreds of people on it, many of them strangers to one another. I made lots of new friends that day.”

Soto says the most common question he gets asked about the project is how he washes his mammoth creation, to which he replies, “A really big washing machine! They exist. Commercial launderers have them. I’m actually taking it to get washed today.”

New Yorkers, of course, enjoy a reputation for toughness, independence, and skepticism towards anybody who uses a phrase like “ideas of collectivism and universality” to describe what he does for a living. Does that make Soto nervous? “I’m definitely curious!” he says. “That’s why I’m taking it on tour, to gauge the range of reactions from beach to beach. I would also like to think that this tough veneer is just that, a front that I can wipe away with the towel.”