New York is surface. It’s art. This becomes clearer and clearer to me now that I am no longer living there. Art is what I pine for. Art gives me hope. Art dissolves my nostalgia for wild. Not for nature, or outdoors, but for a notion of some pristine form of it. New York is art. The environment is, sky excluded, entirely built. As far as the eye can see, in every direction, brick, glass, concrete, tar, metal, plastic, materials in some stage of transformation. Whatever trees are there have been planted and appear like bony wrists out of starched muslin. Whatever plants, greens, vines, have also been planted or have seeded themselves from some displaced soil trucked in from somewhere else. Those seeds, lifted on the draft from a bus, or a delivery van, a sultry Jersey breeze, take root in cracks, on the high line that runs parallel to 10th. Surfaces are fluid, and not just in the ground zero of Times Square. Money is a lubricant perhaps, but not only. Exchange. A certain jouissance is present, even in protest, and it sometimes seems even in death.
Here one could insert a meditation on the bodies of New York. Subject of a conversation with a fellow Canadian now living in New York who revealed a similar tension in her affections for the city. The way that bodies are used, are fuel. This is apparent in all cities. The nodding heads on the A train sleeping under the East River. An aunt used to tell me she couldn’t look at churches, never mind enter them, because all she could see was the hungry bellies and broken backs that went into making them. For her the more ostentatious the architecture the more human suffering was it its root. All human projects have veins and skin. Some costs are more apparent than others. Some surfaces bear the scars, others bury them. Some structures ooze with hauntings, other gleam.
Today I’m thinking not of bodies, but the civic surface and how even in the ever-commercializing Chelsea, art is uncontainable. As thought is uncontainable. It affixes itself, is collaged, scratched and painted over, is marked and remarked, torn off and made again. How it integrates.
Bits of culture float into the mix. Pop culture references, advertisements.
The weather has its way. Rain. Wind. Another body rubbing up against the surface. Another image, everything from spilled soda, to vomit, to bird shit, gets in on the creation. The lines extend across sidewalks, hook up to construction pylons and meters, utility poles and light standards. Sometimes the appeal of Chelsea for me is simply these exterior surfaces, light lavishing itself on them, the city’s lights responding, refracting, and of course my body and the technology strapped onto it, further extending the engagement, pooling lights, streaming. It is already clear that movement is the brush. I can stand still and frame, or I can whirl around with my camera, toss it in the air–play with the aperture, or simply be the technology, adjusting my pace, my gaze.
Sometimes the art is the best part, sometimes the light, the street, the faces looking out, or down, far outperform. Sometimes it’s repulsive to hear someone say, Yes, twenty thousand is fine, and sometimes it’s refreshing.
Bodies moving past, stopping or not, to look or pose inadvertently while smoking a cigarette or checking one’s Blackberry.
Sometimes I walk away buzzing with new ideas. Sometimes insulted. But always with something to bump up against, always having been stirred.
I could be Twittering all of this to you. I could be, in chunks, dolling out my observations. Or, I could be experiencing it for its own sake. Or, like Stein and Woolf and the great minds of our last century, moving through it until I am full of my own stew, something larger, more connective than 140 characters. That is already what we have after all. It is the connective muscle in us all that needs flexing. Not shrinking. It is extended engagement. It is thinking our way through.