This artwork is in the form of a .pdf document.
Long walks that involve subway rides to connect disparate neighborhoods are a good way to charge the libido. The network of underground lines running through New York City are charged with a sexual energy that leaves one pondering the purpose of the human heart upon emerging street side, awash in the breeze of strangers passing by on the tight concrete lanes bordering the ordered grid of our urban landscape.
It’s these juxtapositions of experience that lead to the posting of Missed Connections – these desperate messages to that beautiful someone whose path crossed yours, posted to a public forum in hopes that some future connection can be made. New York City is full of such moments of hesitation. After all, we have this social contract to respect each other’s personal space - be it on the sidewalk or in an elevator, these moments of transit are interrupted carefully if even at all, but to do so in pursuit of ones desire is the most delicate of all where many of us (it seems) fail to act.
It’s no surprise then that the subway is one of the most predictable generators of unrequited love and / or lust. It’s a drawn out moment that lasts the length of a ride, minimum length being one stop. At maximum one needs never leave. Save a catastrophic event, one can enter the system and ride 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the lonely or the horny, or just those plainly open to the prospect of love, it’s a seductive space with limitless potential.
Descending below ground to the platform, there’s a promenade of people 1/10 th of a mile long, and a game being played as everyone maneuvers for their position while awaiting an arriving train. For those inclined, it’s a prime opportunity to look for eye contact – that universal signal of open or closed- ness we all give off – while deciding where to place oneself along the platform of possibilities. We all have different, subjective criteria – to find a seat, to avoid a mariachi band, to make it onto the same car as that someone we’re standing near.
As the train arrives, it dictates separations. Everyone waiting has a choice to make as the train comes to a stop. The location of the double doors slice through crowds as people’s desires compete with their need to get on the train. People rush out. People rush in, making their move for that open seat, that pole to hold onto, or that vantage point to make eye contact.
The truth is it can happen many ways and doesn’t have to be so calculated. That feeling of love can strike you at any moment and it often is beyond articulation. We try to explain it to each other, yet it’s the most subjective of feelings. It’s ineffable, though the best of us try to convey how it feels.
Some of us are willing to go to a public forum in the hopes of making that connection – publicly declaring our failure to act publicly – in hopes of a social reprieve, or an empathetic coincidence – that someone else failed to act too. I heard someone debating whether you could fall in love with a stranger – whether that was in fact lust or infatuation. As if lust or infatuation is a judgment in defense of true love, of established courtship routines that take time. The truth is we’re all strangers when we first meet. It’s definitely within the realm of possibility that strangers could fall in love, and no one else’s judgment really matters when it comes to how you feel about another stranger.
One thing can be said for sure – riding in the compressed space of the subway produces an awful lot of Missed Connections. Searching Craigslist for A train or 4 train yields dozens of hits on any given day. I’ve often thought it would be great to develop a heat map of the NYC Subway system so that you could see the most common lines where people were falling in love at any given time, as if love were a conversation that strangers were passing back and forth via eye contact on the subway, and anyone could participate. Love could be mapped, visualized, and tracked as it moved around the system. All anyone would need in order to become awash in this collective game of love, would be to take a ride.+
The man made world has so many loose ends and beautiful seductive fringes. Take a walk around the city, and you’ll find moments everywhere – crumbling infrastructure, stalled projects, construction sites, and the exposed guts of completed designs. They’re a condition; the landscape that we all live in is littered with remnants of projects realized, in-progress and unfinished. Regardless of their state, these works are puzzles that we all try to decode.
I heard about the pipes of Berlin – these pink twisting lines that pop up out of the ground, run along streets, merge and split at random and then dive back into the deep underground. It’s this puzzle that locals and visitors try to unravel, one that surely has a rational answer to the question - what’s their purpose?
This is the urban condition. We’re surrounded by infrastructure. Surely it has a purpose – utilities exist to support our modern life, and they affect our landscape – but few of us really know how to articulate the technical details of their design. When the question is posed in a public forum it’s remarkable the range of answers posited – some poetic, some technical, some fantastical, and some preposterous. For anyone willing to comment, his or her rationale is enough of an answer (for them) to force this condition into the background of the urban landscape. More often than not we accept subjectivity when a rational, objective definition exists.
In Brooklyn, New York City, there are as many chances for this kind of urban wonder as anywhere. Take a walk from Fort Greene to Dumbo and you’ll encounter crumbling row houses along Flushing Avenue, their lots being overrun by oak trees. I’ve heard they used to house officers stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, now a kind of urban office park full of artists and makers. There’s a Co-Gen power plant with pipes reminiscent of those in Berlin. Their purpose? I’ve heard they hold steam but I can’t be sure. I’m not even sure what Co-Gen power is exactly. To be honest I’ve never cared enough to find out – but I can tell you that when you walk by, along the rusted wrought iron fencing on Flushing Ave, you can hear the hissing noises of pressurized pipes containing either a bleed-off valve (technical term) or which have leaky connections.
Walk further, following the edges of the Navy Yard (where they still repair large ships,) round the corner at Navy Street and walk through Vinegar Hill. If you make it to the waters edge of the East River you’ll encounter a massive power station with fields of transformers stretching for blocks. You would think that perhaps they have something to do with the Co-Gen plant around the corner, but I can’t be sure. Wherever the voltage passing through the coils standing between you and river originate aside, it’s a sublime landscape. The transformers emit a low range hum that can be heard over the current of the river and the cars, trucks and trains passing over the distant Manhattan Bridge. This one vista contains the seam of two bolts of man-made fabric on either side of the electric East River (which has sank many ships.)
Man has bridged and tunneled and ferried to cross from one side to another. At York Street you can catch the F train and enter the network of the MTA – that great utility of public transit – itself designated a landmark worthy of preservation, not the institution but the network of tunnels and tracks and stations that make up the system. York Street is one of those deep stations that requires a steep decent below the surface before one can even gain a sense of an arriving or departing train. It’s either the last stop or first stop in Brooklyn depending on your direction of travel, however it can be said with certainty, that York Street Station sits on the edge of a tunnel burrowed into or under the river bed of the East River, not sure which.
As you descend into York Street station you must walk a long passage where you are joined by strands and strands of conduit – the linear steel casings that protect the wiring within, presumably which power some portion of the subway. There’s conduit everywhere in the subway – it pops up out of the wall, floor or ceiling, runs along a surface bending over and under beams, corners or columns, merging with other lines and then dipping back, deep into the unknown.+