NEW YORK BLUES —
IS THE BIG APPLE LOSING ITS CREATIVE TOUCH
By SUKHDEV SANDHU
New Statesman, London, September 27, 2007
The current rate of exchange may make New York attractive to Brits planning shopping blow-outs, but to a growing number of its writers and intellectuals the city is in danger of creative obsolescence. One of them is Clayton Patterson, editor of the compendious Resistance: a Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side (Seven Stories Press), who singles out the Tompkin Square riots in August 1988 as a decisive moment in its decline. This place, in those days an informal shanty town of squatters, anarchists and junkies, came under attack from police officers trying to impose a midnight curfew.
The clashes helped usher in gentrification, transforming a traditional magnet for radicals and immigrants into a middle-class playground. Patterson's contributors, among them cops, activists and the formerly homeless, all pass caustic judgement on the destabilisation of a fascinating ecosystem - the reduction in community gardens, the demonisation of jaywalking, the privatisation of a vital public culture into a series of themed bars and restaurants. Given that this story is being replayed all across Britain right now, Patterson's book makes for especially compelling reading.
Resistance is also the central theme of We Know You Are Watching (Factory School), a collection of essays, maps and scripts documenting the work of one of New York's most consistently alert and imaginatively disruptive organisations, the Surveillance Camera Players. For over a decade, this witty group, led by Bill Brown, has monitored the onward creep of privately- and police-funded CCTV cameras within the city, so that a place long celebrated for its ability to offer the shelter of anonymity to its inhabitants is now one in which daily life feels militarised.
Here are details of Situationist-inspired street-theatre performances, acted out directly in front of Times Square cameras, that reverse the gaze of the would-be panoptic state. Surveillance technology goes hand in hand with the suburbanisation of this city, being installed primarily in already-safe neighbourhoods, and rarely in "troublesome" working-class communities where they might feasibly be of some use. Brown's excellent website (www.notbored. org), together with this inspiring book, is of great interest to anyone discomfited by the number of cameras in this country.
Slaves of Christo, by Julia Hall and Chrissy Leggio (Booklyn Artists Alliance), has been out a while but copies are only just leaking into the UK via Nog Gallery on Brick Lane. It's a limited edition that records the less-than-enthralling experiences of two art students who volunteered to install at Central Park what the New York Times called "the first great public art event of the 21st century". Sarky to the core, it's full of amusing bitching about the work itself and their star-struck co-workers.
Each copy has a piece of felt attached: orange, the same colour as Christo's installation.
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