Skip to main content
Read page text

of sustainability by global corporations. There is also the argument that technological progress will be able to save us from our own ecocide; however, this is not being built quickly or affordably enough and a reliance on this narrative risks appearing as conjecture. Demos is highly critical of such arguments and demonstrates the urgency to overturn capitalism as a whole, pointing to Ressler’s video work as successfully imagining a world beyond capitalism.

Along Ecological Lines foregrounds the importance of the arts in such tumultuous times. Before it seemed uncertain, but the recent intensification of events in Australia make both the present and the future abundantly clear – there is no reversing the damage that has been done. It is more important now than ever that interdisciplinary collaboration is utilised to offer up spaces of possibility and new modes of thinking and being, especially as we know that the future world already looks so bleak. Along Ecological Lines, ed Barnaby Drabble, Gaia Project, 2019, 226pp, £17, 978 0 993219 25 2. Alexandra Hull is a curator, writer and Art Monthly’s subscriptions and distribution manager.

Fiona Anderson: Cruising the Dead River – David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront Jonathan Weinberg: Art and Sex Along the New York Waterfront As epic architectural symbols of New York’s 20th century boom and bust, the vacant, ruined Manhattan piers offered an unforeseen ‘sexual theatre’ for cruising gay men in the years immediately before and the decades after the Stonewall Riots, the 1969 demonstrations which catalysed modern gay liberation. Through the post-gay liberation period to the early years of the AIDS crisis, the act of cruising and the implicit risk factors – arrest for trespassing the piers and prohibitions against sex work and public sex, or mugging and queer bashing from teenage gangs, notwithstanding the structural dangers of the piers themselves – all added a frisson of fear and violence to outlaw acts as denizens of the newly visible gay bars, sex clubs and bath houses of the Village spilled onto the truck parks and abandoned piers at night. At the same time, New York’s Downtown area became a beacon for new kinds of radical art and exhibition-making by artists who took advantage of the piers as creative sites to expand their practices beyond studios and galleries to forge new audiences.

Cruising The Dead River: David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront by Newcastle University art historian Fiona Anderson sets out to establish a queer feminist cultural, critical and art-historical survey of cruising on the New York piers and cruising as artistic and literary methods. Anderson focuses her thematic study on a critical purview ‘around’ artist, writer, photographer, curator and would-be activist David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), who acutely chronicled Reagan-era US life before he died of an AIDS-related illness at the age of 37. Adopting Wojnarowicz’s queer temporal literary style and the erotic and aesthetic zeitgeist of post-Stonewall, pre-HIV public sex as a ‘demonstration’, Anderson echoes Mark W Turner’s Backwards Glances. Turner’s study of cruising in cultural modernity expounds upon Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin’s thesis of the ephemeral, contingent and fragmented nature of modernity, adding Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘disintegration of the senses’ and Jacques Derrida’s ‘hauntology’ to an aggregate philosophy and visual culture of cruising in ruins.

This creative and erotic impulse, and cruising as artistic and literary method, is explored through fellow pier chroniclers and habitués including photographers Alvin Baltrop, Leonard Fink, Peter Hujar, Shelley Seccombe, Stanley Stellar, Arthur Tress and writers Edmund White, John Rechy and Andrew Holleran. A broader sphere of influence considers artists who worked in or captured the piers – Vito Acconci, Chantal Akerman, Joan Jonas, Gordon Matta-Clark and ShunkKender – and curatorial pier projects by Willougby Sharp and Wojnarowicz whose Ward Line Pier project is the linchpin of successive art interventions on the piers.

The deeply historical, utopian proselytising on early gay public sex by piers authors privileged the piers as part of the enduring cultural imaginary of queer New York in ways ill-afforded to bars and bathhouses which Leo Bersani described as ‘ruthless, ranked, hierarchised and competitive’. Inverting the purportedly profane act of cruising as sacred – for White the piers were ‘a Cathedral’ and for Wojnarowicz the cruisers were ‘monks of the dead river’ – they were prophets of an unabashedly gay life to eager audiences and, in turn, to outraged moral critics. In that context Wojnarowicz’s literary reveries of cruising his literary forbears in the ruined piers compounds embedded histories of furtive, dockside same-sex cruising across time, from Walt Whitman to Hart Crane, and, as Anderson keenly demonstrates, through the artistic and literary archive. This looks to past and future-facing queer temporal notions to consider both cruising men and the artists of the piers as being fellow travellers in the search for new erotic and aesthetic possibilities that, quoting Jack Halberstam, lie outside ‘the paradigmatic markers of lived’ (ie ‘straight’) ‘experience’.

Anderson links Derrida’s concept of hauntology, a way to describe the hauntedness of time and the temporal, to Wojnarowicz’s cruising method as a ‘linking of modalised presents’, the now of past, present and future, and these ideas are brought to bear on the ruined piers, almost as readymades of queer temporality. In the 2000s, Every Ocean Hughes fka Emily Roysdon (b1977) repurposed Wojnarowicz’s iconic collaborative photographic essay ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’ as ‘David Wojnarowicz in New York’, revisiting the cultural and social milieu of Wojnarowicz’s waterfront that displaced Rimbaud into New York of the 1970s. This posits a series of returns in a mode of queer kinship and, as Anderson (quoting Jean Carlomusto) notes, plays with ideas of history ‘to incorporate a play of gender’. Anderson sees such cross-temporal methodology as a crucial way to challenge what she calls a ‘viral momentum’, a heteronormative teleology of HIV/AIDS propelled by promiscuity at the piers in the 1970s precisely to reconsider how we experiment, remember and historicise. As she states: ‘The value of returning to the queer time of the preAIDS era is not that it offers us a vision of sex without

Art Monthly no. 434, March 2020


My Bookmarks

    Skip to main content