Sunday, October 2, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Elective Messes, Paint Tests and Chemical Dispersing
Last night after I hauled my 2 bags of wire down the steaming hot stairway, I stopped in the storefront to really assess the situation. I felt like a truly insane lady, there with my wire at the last minute, on the last night ever I'd have access to my building, it was really hot, and outside, the 1-hour-only parking meter running. I dumped one bag out on the floor and surveyed it, resolving to try to sort it out and perhaps not have to take it all. This seemed like the sane thing to do, but after a precious few minutes somewhat frenetically yanking and pulling in a vain attempt to make sense of the miles-long unearthly tangle, I was filthy. Arms and legs, shorts and tank top soaked thru with sweat and now covered in what looked like a million lashes from a black and brown dirt-whip. Ahhh, I thought, suddenly calm and feeling quite sane. I knew exactly what to do. I wrangled all the wire back in the bag and got both loads into my bundle buggy. I made it to the car in time, drove to my storage space filthy but satisfied, whether I use my wire ever, or not, was so not the point. Its getting so dirty once in a while that I'll miss, and all that space in which to make such a big mess.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Over the years during times of strife in my building, a friend would remind me of the price (not financial, although when speaking of anti-eviction litigation, yes financial), of living so 'marginally'. Marginally. Marginal was for the other EV squatts and homesteads with their defiant outspeak, banners hung across fire escapes, protests in the park. Marginal was for others whom I felt were terrifically less fortunate: the homeless, drug addled, oppressed, illegal...although I can't forget that at times in the past, I haven't managed to evade at least a version of certain of these conditions, by association or otherwise.
I have always been interested in public and private space in the urban environment and the intersection of the two. Particularly the idea that marginal spaces and abandoned, overgrown, or 'vacant' (such a misnomer!) areas can function as spatial opportunity for psychological freedom, essential as antidote to the control exerted upon inhabitants of highly developed commercial zones. This is a gross simplification of the concept of the 'Terrain Vague', a renowned thesis by architect Ignacio de Solà-Morales. Looking back, my desire to homestead reflects this long-held interest however unformed or subconscious back then, expressed at times through artwork (and more recently through Legge Lewis Legge, a collaborative public art practice I helped found in 2000), but mostly expressed through attempting to inhabit, for 20 years, the interstitial at 7-and-a-half.
If you get a minute someday, please see 'The Terrain Vague as material--some observations' (http://www.amarrages.com/textes_terrain.html), a short essay at by Luc Levesque, an architect and Architectural Practices History and Theory professor in the History Department at the University of Laval Québec. I have also pasted it below with credit and author bio. I hope this is OK blog etiquette. If it's not I'll soon find out.
The ‘terrain vague’ as material – some observations*
At the crossroads of many, often contradictory trains of thought, jostled by the accelerated pace of change in modern society, the urban environment evolves along lines that are increasingly difficult to read. In this volatile context, a renewed interest in the ‘terrain vague’ has become apparent in the last fifteen years or so. Post-industrial urbanization creates more and more spaces whose murky status raises many questions.
Two opposing visions generally polarize discussion of these spaces. The first decries the disorder they represent in the city. The second, by contrast, highlights their potential interest as spaces of freedom in an urban environment that is increasingly standardized and regulated.
In the first view, the vacant, indeterminate zones that punctuate the urban landscape represent unacceptable socio-economic deterioration and abandonment. In the absence of the will or ability to overcome the root causes, the issue is often limited to one of ‘image’. The ‘terrain vague’ runs contrary to the desired image of a prosperous city. Because it punctures the ideal of plenty and order, generally associated with urban prosperity, it presents a problem. While waiting for future development to solve the problem, people try to ignore the ‘terrain vague’, abandoning it to lucrative parking lots or trying a quick cosmetic fix to minimize the possibilities for use.
For those who hold the second view, the ‘terrain vague’ offers a counterpoint to the way order and consumption hold sway over the city. Offering room for spontaneous, creative appropriation and informal uses that would otherwise have trouble finding a place in public spaces subjected increasingly to the demands of commerce, the ‘terrain vague’ is the ideal place for a certain resistance to emerge, a place potentially open to alternative ways of experiencing the city.
These two antagonistic views – briefly summarized here – are limited, each in its own way, by a degree of idealism. The ‘terrain vague’ may well symbolize economic stagnation, and, it is often associated with careless investors and permissive municipal authorities, but consigning it to urban decay, simply because it does not correspond to the ideal of a functional city, is reductionist at best. At the same time, to make the ‘terrain vague’, a priori, a territory of emancipation is to risk wallowing in a romantic vision with some disconnection with reality. The ‘terrain vague’ cannot be dissociated from the forces that produced it, forces linked in most cases to purely speculative motives unrelated to the public good; moreover, the forms of marginality it is likely to attract are of course not limited to the emancipated, creative and open-minded.
How can we move beyond these sterile arguments, which appear to limit the issues raised by the ‘terrain vague’ to an all-out struggle between order and disorder? To establish a hypothesis – ‘the ‘terrain vague’ as material’ – is to try to approach the issue by another path. It is to place in parentheses the qualities usually connoted by the ‘terrain vague’– whether debasement or emancipation – in an attempt to capture the conceptual and experiential dimensions, like so many substrates that might feed the eye and the intervention.
In this way, shifting from factual observation of the vacant lot to the more abstract concept of interstitial space expands our perspective to include a range of notions apt to stimulate discussion, whether linked directly to the ‘terrain vague’ or not. Etymologically, interstitial denotes something found ‘in between’ things. Referring to the notion of interval, it also means ‘a space of time’. Thus the interstitial embraces not only such notions as openness, porosity, breach and relationship, but also those of process, transformation and location.
More specifically, it is also possible to approach the interstitial condition of the ‘terrain vague’ as an urban resurgence of the wild. At the confluence of modern brutality (industrial infrastructure, dominance of roads and highways, real estate tabula rasa, etc.), ruderal colonization (flora and fauna), and urbanity (collective appropriations, user-friendly, local practices, etc.), urban wilderness confronts us with raw environments that embody the troubling contradictions that societies tend to repress or mask elsewhere. They are remnants that speak, in many cases, of the violence and irresponsibility of a world devoted to breakneck production, but also of the adventurous, tenacious forms of life that emerge, strengthened, by these hostile environments.
The ‘open’ city can become the laboratory for an intensified experience that offers new opportunities for urbanity, as long as we do not keep insisting on standardizing it at all costs. The idea here is not to favour the temporary or the natural systematically over the permanent and the planned, but indeed to aim for an active amalgam of heterogeneous components that broaden the terms of the experience. This approach is still underused in landscaping, where the tendency too often is to create a decor that is complete in itself, that represses or forgets the crucial role of bodies, the plurality of material tonalities and the richness of the unexpected. By contrast, what we see as important in an urban intervention is its capacity to start from what exists and generate new connections to reality, new ways of experiencing and imagining the city. Beyond the notion of re-landscaping, the issue of the ‘terrain vague’ summons up ways of approaching urban intervention today. At a time when the immediacy of electronic networking constantly reshuffles our perceptions of the world, looking at the ‘terrain vague’ as material means working at building with the indeterminate to generate a hybrid dynamic, one that is ‘in sync’ with the issues of our time.
Luc Lévesque, 2002.
*This article has been published in HOUSE BOAT / OCCUPATIONS SYMBIOTIQUES , Hull/ Gatineau, AXENÉO7, pp.6-7. An earlier version of this article appeared in Paysages, (newsletter of the Association des architectes paysagistes du Québec), Montréal, June 2001, pp. 16–18, under the title “Le terrain vague comme matériau”.
Luc Lévesque is an Architectural Practices History and Theory professor in the History Department at the University of Laval (Québec). He is an architect and a founding member of the urban exploration workshop SYN-. His recent research was about the possibilities of a side approach to the urban landscape. He is a member of the editing committee of Inter art actuel magazine and he supervised several reports about architecture, urban landscape and practices. As an architect, he collaborated with various American and European offices.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Since I moved the third week in June, I returned several times to my empty apartment before the end of the month. Among other things, I photographed in High Rez the walls which I couldn't take with me, and defrosted the fridge, then returned to empty the smelly dirty, melted fridge-freezer water and clean up a bit more. Took down about 10 bags of paper recycling and garbage, more stuff I didn't want. For what? They are going to tear down the building. I guess I didn't want to leave a total mess for the demolishers. Sort of like washing a dead body before you cover it in dirt. A bit macabre that reference, but apropos for the romantic ruin my home is to become. More on living within the Terrain Vague later.
I am reminded of interesting pigeon behavior after one of the many times we evicted them from roosting in our shaftway. I enjoyed their cooings as they nestled on my windowsills, but not the shit that accumulated there. Really seriously dirty and disgusting it was, just to think of whatever was wafted in on a not-so-fresh breeze right thru all that bird guano. And I assume downright hazardous to health.
All that said, I have to admit that it was the guys next door in 7 2nd Ave that got it together the last time we had to get the pigeons out. We had had to remove the chicken wire covering the shaftway again for the last FDNY inspection some long time before, so the pigeons had enjoyed a hassle free couple years probably at that point. (There were most likely other building issues more pressing, we couldn't address them all and it became kind of a losing battle. Resigned to Live and Let Live, I simply kept my shaftway windows closed. Besides, it was nice to have a version of wildlife so close-by in the city). So the birds had quite accumulated, and had a real robust society going all up and down the negative space between 7 and 7 and a half. It was early in the year and they hadn't laid eggs yet, a good time to evict. First shooing, screaming and waving, then broom waving, then a wild water hose didnt budge them. Eventually one of the guys went out, procured an airhorn and that did it. The birds scattered as nearly did I up to the Ear hospital on 14th street. (Or is that the Eye hospital?) Once bird-free, we quickly covered the top of the shaftway. No easy task, wrangling 200 square feet of chicken wire over a 5-storey hole and trying to secure it to nothing but the crumbling parapet wall.
An hour later the pigeons were back, pacing back and forth their pigeon wire, actively and obviously searching for a hole somewhere, hoping they could get back in to their homes.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Thursday, June 2, 2011
After the lady doctors split sometime in the early 90s, (I suspect for more hygienic horizons) the storefront was then occupied by one of our building-mates, a somewhat engineer of sorts. He had commandeered the entire space to hoard mountains of old computer equipment, and none of us had any access until after he left, which he did suddenly one day in the early 2000s, miraculously disappearing along with most of his storefront stuff. Unlike our more rustic places, he left behind a completely finished duplex apartment across the hall from me in the front top and 3rd floors, connected by a cast iron spiral stair. I didn’t go into his place for a long time after he left, not until it didn't feel like his anymore. He was a very surly, sometimes violent and divisive force within our little tenants association, and since he left us our group has gotten along quite well, something unheard of among NYC coop boards, de facto, as ours is, or otherwise. If we were so inclined I suppose we could have burned sage or done some feng shui thing to dispel the palpable bad vibes, but we just let the space sit. It has since come in handy occasionally for studio visits or when I've had a big project to produce. Except that while making his exit our ex-colleague tore all the electric out, so it's day use only. I have strung lights up in there on occasion, but its a pain and taxes my electric.
Back down to the storefront: I could have had a gallery, performance space, free-for-all-whatever-gathering-happening-space, a space. I could have proposed any number of projects in the back, accessed by CUANDO's long defunct hallway. One would enter from the street, travel the long hall to arrive at, what… a robust lawn growing under fluorescent grower lights? a gallery of blacklight paintings? (no), and installation of anything at all I could have curated, or invited someone to curate involving other artists from the neighborhood. Never mind that I no longer know any artists from the neighborhood. I could have found some I'm sure. I could have shown my fabulous telephone wire piece down in there if I had done it. I could have started something that might have become part of the grassroots artistic fabric of the neighborhood, or that might have contributed to, represented and help sustain the area's gritty past creative energies in the face of growing threats from gentrification and developers. This is what goes through my head every once in a while these days. Stuff I would, could, and should have done with this precious chunk of decrepit Manhattan real estate.
Other HDFCs did it, managed to engage the neighborhood by providing public-ish exhibition and performance spaces over the years, and some are still going to this day, such as Bullet Space on east 3rd street.
But the truth is that we in this building were never the 'community' types. For one thing, our median age was above that in most homesteaded buildings, and most of us are well past gritty and way over making the scene. Despite my current few regrets, we have kept a low profile here on 2nd Ave., and basically desire quiet, not drama, even of the staged variety.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Today we received our 60-day move-out notices. We've been expecting them for weeks, and mine arrived rather unceremoniously a few moments ago as an email attachment. I'm to fill it out, sign it and fax or mail, or scan it and email it back to UHAB. Whatever, apparently. I bet I could shoot it with my iphone and Facebook it. Or twitter it. Can you twitter photos?
Well that was anticlimactic. I thought I'd be served somehow, or at least have to go to the post office and pick up a registered letter of some sort. Something a little officious to match the gravity of what the notice means to me. But an email? When I moved into this building there was no email, no computers, I don't think at least not of the ubiquitous personal variety.
So now I really have to move. No more talking, discussing, speculating. No more fabricating possible scenarios, no more resigning to not knowing. And worse, no more righteous indignation at The Man, whoever he is. We are going with The Man, and in full cahoots.
For now anyway.
One day a couple years ago our front doors (one is the old CUANDO 2nd Ave entrance) turned up grey. Solid battleship grey, not a mark on them. I was furious. Our front had been a glorious mash up of graffiti upon graffiti, neglected, or rather, I'd like to say, a work in progress for about 18 years at that time. The story was, that the management company for the building next door did it in error during the regular grey-washing of their own doors. However, the developer for our project has owned the building on 2nd Ave to the north of us for a few years and so the mystery paint job may not have been in error after all. He had obviously had his eye on our building and perhaps there was a bank visit imminent.
Its laughable to think that a bunch of graffiti could devalue a property, ANY property, in the East Village of Manhattan at this point, but whatever. Were I the bank, an uninspired 50% grey greeting would be as offensive if not more, than a proper appraiser might find graffiti. But as goes a frequent lament, I am not the bank.
I say they had a lot of nerve, trespassing and destroying dynamic and random art and artifact in the process, but considering we don't own* our building, there's nothing we can do to deter what are now regular assaults on the graf that accrues on it.
*Our building was owned by the City of New York, then in 2001 was passed on to an organization called The Urban Homesteading Assistance Board for a dollar, as part of a group deal made by 11 of the 12 remaining homesteads in the EV to stop fighting, renovate and stay on in our buildings. Obviously we are not staying on in our building. Instead, we have agreed to have UHAB sell our building to a developer. Back in the day, agreeing to 'relocation' would have been considered homestead sacrilege and never, ever considered, but here, circumstances have been vastly extenuated. More on this later.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
I can see how people become hoarders. I can't necessarily ID with the ones who dysfunctionally stuff their homes to the rafters, but rather with the kind that roam around outdoors with bags. I've been roaming as such for years now, with bags, between my place and my boyfriend's apartment in Chelsea. What I might need where and when, whether it be clothes, a certain soup pot, shirt, information, or a piece of some project, always on my mind. I have been thoroughly confounded by this practice at times, so much so that there must be much more to it than the petty hurts of inconvenience and minor impracticality. Perhaps its simply put; when I stay away from my home I miss it, and I want to take stuff from it with me. Its the same as the rampant pilfering of rocks and seashells while on vacation. Speaking of which, such loot from who-knows-where now sits collecting dust on the windowsills, nevermind the weighty hoard laid in stacked shoe boxes in the back of my tool closet.
But within my apartment I'm not a hoarder, been pretty organized over the years, having made it a rule never to 'outgrow' my space so as to spill over into off-site storage. Being ultimately a pessimist, I never fully trusted the urban myth that a storage space was 'temporary' until the country place was secured. Maybe this very fact is the only reason that my Century Farm back stoop where the rocks were destined has yet to materialize. Never say never I suppose, but if only I had labeled them all accordingly at time and place of acquisition, I could now make an intriguing art work of public practice by returning them back, each and every one, from whence they came.
Save for boxes of rocks, moving the contents of my apartment will be a mostly manageable undertaking. It is moving pieces the apartment itself, stuff I'll 'need' in the new place, a Sheetrock box I suspect, no matter how 'luxuriously appointed', (more on that later) that I'm a bit worried about.
I'm taking my solid wood doors with their beautiful marbly doorknobs, along with the original wood moulding, provided I can prise it off the walls without splintering it. The clay moulding I can't take or I would, it breaks, held together at this point only by layers of latex. The 1 x 1-inch tiles inlaid in the bathroom floor are still up for consideration, but the giant old bathtub and ancient sink are coming with. Both are enameled iron I think, and each one astonishingly heavy. I want the double duty utility sink that I installed for the kitchen and studio and the set of hand-finished wood shelves that are built into the studio wall. There's the hundred-year-old funky corner cabinet built way too high (strange it's so high, the tops shelves unreachable. I always wondered why, maybe for poisons, to keep kids out?) in the kitchen plus an old tin shelf in the bathroom. I want the one code fire escape grate that I installed plus the old, now illegal accordion-style one as well, just for old times sake. Maybe its an antique by now? I would take portions of the walls if I could. I have left them as they were unless they were crumbling, in which case they were covered with cement spackle. Here and there can be seen cracks, stains, yellowing, and the writings and scribbles of various workers and people before me; measurements, a message taken for a phone call when no paper was within reach.
The old fridge or stove however, are staying behind. Gas stoves are a dime a dozen plus I've always been a bit afraid of the particular one in my kitchen. As for the fridge, it's strange I'm not more attached to it. I have marveled at it at times, its clunky 1950s fridgeness. But the handle has to be handled just right or it won't close, and I'm sure it leaks too. I probably have freon poisoning.
I'm aware that packing out actual pieces of the apartment is perhaps a grander-scale mimicking of the act of shuttling possessions to and from my boyfriend's place, and I suspect that the need to do it rests much more in the psychological than the practical. Way.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I sat in on a meeting on the roof the other day. In attendance were the CM (construction manager), one of the development company partners (did I mention that a developer is putting up a new building in the place of our old one?) and some "demolition experts". Turns out they must demolish the building "by hand" is the inconguously quaint term. Apparently, things have changed in the demo-permitting dept., especially in such tight an urban condition as lower Manhattan. That coupled with the fact of our adjacency with our 'sister' building to the south, with which we only share a wall and a name anymore, Germania Flats. We are the Flats part, fyi, the dirty half.
We've been through this before. In the back and to the north we used to share bricks with a huge old complex called CUANDO, at 9 2nd Ave. We are now 9, as CUANDO is now gone. CUANDO was a giant community center complete with a Y-size swimming pool in the basement, 2 theatres, a chapel, an auditorium and a caged-in basketball court on the roof. By it's end ten years ago the whole place, which took up about a third of the block behind our building, was riddled with rats and squatters, the former visiting us in droves when the site was disturbed during CUANDO's demo (see befores-and-afters below taken from our roof and the back of our block taken from Bowery), the latter taking up residence in our basement for a time.
The rats not only infiltrated our ground floor, but climbed the stairs, at night presumably because no-one can claim to have seen them during their ascent, eventually summitting the top floor, though thankfully not in my apartment. That was fun, a rat infestation, but the human squatter infestation was much worse. They were somewhat more discreet than their 4-legged former roommates, and their residency in our basement went unnoticed for the better part of a year. The squatters split as soon as we discovered them, but they left our formerly empty basement looking like an abandoned refugee camp for needle junkies, crackheads, meth freaks and drunks. They used a far corner for the loo. I couldnt even pay a hazmat company to come in and take a look, much less clean it up. More on that later.
Back to our demolition. There can be no bulldozers, no dust, no nothing falling from the sky or thrown from the roof, no sensational collapse. All lead and asbestos must be abated beforehand, as it is 'everywhere' inside evidently, (great!... didn't know that...!) a kind of interior pre-demo to the demo, so as to not release 'harmful particles' into the atmosphere and pose a 'serious health threat' to demo workers within or to the surrounding inhabitants without. The building will be dissassembled brick by brick, rather than knocked down. Elaborate demo plans will be drawn up, as layered and extensive as those required to put up the new building. I inquired after a set of such plans, to own, once they exist, for posterity...
"Sure, after all the lawsuits are settled.....", the developer joked.
heh heh. Real Estate Developer Humor I suppose.
I'm already thinking how many bricks to save along with my wire....and maybe a stone lintel or two?
Thanks for reading!
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Since I'm on the top floor I patrol the roof. Back in the day footfalls up there meant most likely bad news. A junkie from the then drug market on 1st street fleeing a raid, or one of the many bonafide squatters from CUANDO in back (more on that later) taking a short cut. Before all the development in the neighborhood, boundaries, both physical and psychological it seemed, were a lot more porous. Nowadays it's only people whom I have let up there, roofers or the telephone guy, and of most late, surveyors and agents for the development company that is soon to own the building. This Monday for instance I'll be hosting a tour for the 'demolition expert' (yikes). I'm sure he'll want to see the roof. As did the FDNY on more than one occasion...
Our general rule for years was don't let anyone you don't know into the building. That especially went for burly and officious looking men with firefighter outfits or DOT IDs and walkies. So we didn't. Unless they let themselves in, by popping the roof lock and tromping down the stairs like a kind of crowbar-wielding Gestapo. I say a kind of. A 24-hour Vacate Order for code and safety violations is neither the horror of war nor life threatening, although it could feel that way as I hunkered down quiet as a mouse playing not home right now to the boots in the hall. It's more like way-of-life threatening.
We never got the dreaded 24-hour Vacate Order knock wood, but we did get a couple 7-day notices to fix minor violations-or-else which sent us scrambling sweat and resources to repair whatever was cited.
Once it was the wads of old telephone wire strung up and around the roof, like malevolent jump ropes just waiting to trip someone over the edge to their deaths. It ran wild up there like a huge filthy cobweb, pooling in the back corner only to cascade all the way down the back of the building like a thick wire waterfall, lamely bundled here and there with fraying ropes and disintegrating zip ties. When was the zip tie invented? When was the telephone invented? Whenever it was I took that many years of wire off the building that day. As I untangled and wrangled it in tar covered blobs I became interested in it. And then sort of attached to it. There were all kinds of different guages and qualities of wire, and better, each one had been some past resident's phoneline, some of it some way-past resident's phoneline. This wire was literally infused with the personal vibrations of billions of not just past but downright ancient phone conversations! I don't usually get all New Age-y like that, but you had to wonder...this was veritable telephone wire museum! This onorous and too-long procrastinated-upon chore was yielding a treasure trove of obtuse art material imbued with historical significance and intrigue! Spooky! I could make art out of this! Never mind that that's just the kind of artwork I hate...formally one has to be very careful when employing les objets-trouves n'est pas?...
Despite this I saved it. Stuffed it all into two huge contractor bags and secured it with a somewhat superfluous note that says 'Andrea's wire do not touch' or something like that. I was determined to use it and still might; first scrub the hundred years of NYC grime and tar off of it then weave, tie, twist or braid it into something Glorious And Transcendent In Black. And it won't so much as whisper lowly Scrap Art....
I...um...haven't gotten around to this project yet. Right from the get-go the part about scraping decades of tar and dirt off 10,000 feet of old wire in my bathtub has put me off.
I fear moving day most partly on account of those giant bags of wire. What's that expression... 'less interesting than a box of hair'...? Maybe I can poll you all as to whether the wire makes it to the storage space or not.
Thanks for reading!
More later let's hope!