It’s February, and those of you who are romantics at heart know that means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you have plans to spend Valentine’s Day with someone special or not, you’ll soon find that many high street stores are getting in the mood for the occasion with some special decorations. For the twelfth consecutive year, Time Square is hosting the winner of the Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition, and this year’s winner comes with mirrors. Lots of mirrors.
The design is called ‘Heart Squared,’ and was dreamed up in a collaboration by MODY and Eric Forman Studios, two companies both based within Brooklyn’s borders. While every entry in the competition of the past decade-plus has been artistic and innovative, ‘Heart Squares’ may be the boldest and most unconventional yet. Only from a distance would a viewer feel confident of describing as heart-shaped at all. Closer up, it appears as a steel grid, upon which more than one hundred mirrors cit, tilted at many different angles. Some of the mirrors reflect the sights of Times Square back at the viewer, but the majority of them will reflect the viewer themself. We don’t know if whether it’s a comment on the modern trend for ‘selfie’ photographs, or a social commentary on the kind of narcissism that goes into opening and maintaining an Instagram account, but it would be easy to interpret it as such.
Rachely Rotem, who works for MODU, says that the project initially started life as a three-dimensional model of Times Square itself, which probably goes some way to explaining its grid-like shape. Rotem says that she and her fellow designers looked at Times Square as a form of urban canyon, complete with nature on the balconies and rooftops. They also took inspiration from the people who pass through Times Square, and the diverse background those people comes from. When viewers look at ‘Heart Squared,’ they will see not only their own faces reflected back at them but also the faces of all the other people looking at the exhibition at the same time. Through that, Rotem hopes that the sculpture will provide a sense of togetherness.
While it’s hard to record accurate numbers in terms of how many people visit Times Square specifically to see the Valentine’s Day-related exhibition, it’s thought that three hundred thousand people will pass by the sculpture every day – or at least they would under normal circumstances. If the statue is able to pull tourists or residents into the area in significant numbers, it may go some way to fixing the hole that’s being left by a downturn in footfall following the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.
Given that China is thousands of miles away, the idea of the coronavirus that’s made international news having a measurable impact on both footfall and financial turnover for Times Square businesses seems absurd, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that not only is it likely to happen, in some places it’s already happening. Times Square is suffering a drop-off in visitor numbers because New York City as a whole is suffering from a drop-off in visitor numbers – and it’s the coronavirus which is being blamed.
The coronavirus is yet another example of media-led pass panic – the type we’ve seen before during outbreaks of SARS and swine flu. The chances of anyone contracting the coronavirus while out in the open are less than the chances of hitting the jackpot on an UK slots by betting a single dollar. The chances actually dying from the viruses would make the odds on that online slots jackpot looks positively favorable – and yet despite that, the illness is being portrayed in newspapers and on television as a deadly modern plague. None of that matters when it comes down to cold hard cash, though and Times Square is feeling the pinch. So far, its losses are believed to be in the region of $100,000 a day. If this really were a game on an online slots website, the house would step in and stop the player from losing any more.
The source of the losses is thought to be a near-complete absence of Chinese tourists arriving in New York, or coming on sight-seeing tours of the city. Newark Liberty International Airport usually welcomes dozens of Chinese tourists each day. In recent days it’s seen very few, and in some cases none at all. A company in downtown Manhattan that’s carved its niche offering guided tours for Chinese-speaking visitors has suffered more than three hundred cancellations in a single week after visitors pulled out. With the Chinese government imposing a travel clampdown on its citizens and various airlines suspending services both to and from mainland China, those lost visitors won’t be coming back any time soon. One hundred thousand dollars a day may not sound like much in the context of Times Square, but the number is increasing, and when added together is already well over a million.
It’s not just the Chinese visitors, though. With three potential cases of the virus already under investigation in New York, some people are postponing all but essential trips outdoors until public safety can be guaranteed. Given that scientists and doctors currently have no idea how long the coronavirus scare might last for that might not just be a matter of days. It could be weeks. It could even conceivably be months. Should the crisis run on until April – the start of what ought to be the biggest season for the local tourism industry – the financial impact would be nothing short of catastrophic.
The exhibiting of a heart in Times Square each year is a reminder to all of us that we should all face the world with more love in our hearts. Times Square and the businesses that depend on your custom there may never have needed that love more than they do this year, and right now. If you have romance in your heart, money in your pocket, and an appreciation for modern art, please head down to the exhibition and see what kind of an impact it makes on you. While you’re there, why not support a local business!