Conversation piece

For one Brooklynite, talk isn't cheap-it's art.

Chance encounter Lee Walton, right, strikes up conversation with random strangers.

Chance encounter Lee Walton, right, strikes up conversation with random strangers. Photo: Nick Himmel

When most people think of expanding their horizons, they don’t imagine doing so by placing limits on themselves. But for artist and self-styled “experimentalist” Lee Walton, there is no other way.

Walton crafts strict sets of rules to abide by in the course of his work. He’s doesn’t do this as self-inflicted punishment, or to derive some kind of pleasure for that matter, but merely to give shape to see what transpires as a result.

Over the next month, this Carroll Gardens dad will be initiating a series of conversations with random strangers, though not by stopping them on the street. Instead, according to his preconceived terms, each of these chats must all take place at a set time, in a specific place with whomever happens to appear at that moment. “It’s almost like a date,” he laughs. “I’m already nervous.”

As part of the plan, he’s picked out ten city park benches where he’ll sit and wait for these “events” to unfold. “I’ve set it up so that I can’t decide, Oh, I’ll talk to the next person. It’s my rule.” His goal is to dissect what most would consider inconsequential encounters by giving them a heightened sense of meaning. He’s also planning to record the conversations and make them available on his website, leewalton.com.

In September, Walton took what he considered his boldest step: He made a vow to never enter Union Square Park again. “It was a feeling I had never experienced,” he admits, “knowing I couldn’t go there,” especially, he adds, because it’s a favorite meeting spot among his friends. Now that it’s off-limits, Walton has forced himself to find alternate routes around the park, and that, he says, has opened him up to a whole host of new experiences. If it all sounds kind of Zen, well, maybe it is. “We attach value to things all of the time,” he explains, “like getting married, or graduating from college. We build up all this anticipation. But we never really question the significance we assign these occasions.”—Daniel Derouchie