Red Hook, how does freedom feel?

CIMG3979 copy

When you get off the B-61 bus on Van Brunt, you don’t find yourself in New York anymore. You’ve left Cobble Hill and Carol gardens behind and you arrive at this strange place where the buildings are old and red and the streets are silent and empty. It looks more like a decrepit dystopian village condemned and abandoned by factory workers. It is red and gray with black wires and pieces of old metal that rust the sky and decorate the facades of the worn down factories. If you let your mind wander, as you yourself get physically lost into the brick belly of Red Hook, you can very well imagine that this is where the Marx’s revolution of the proletariat has occurred. The clues are there: the traces of raw material and the obsolete fixed capital. But the labor power is nowhere to be found and it looks as if we lost them a few dozen years ago.

CIMG3915 copy CIMG3884 copy

By the 1920’s Red Hook was the busiest freight port in the world towards the end of the industrial age of the U.S. Today the traces of its importance are still visible yet the only ships that travel to-and-fro Red Hook are the Ikea water-taxis. The global and industrial importance associated with Red Hook has been replaced with businesses and craftsmen/women who create products and offer services on a local scale. The distilleries, pastry stores, chocolatiers and restaurants all work in unison supporting each other in a surprising turn of events.

CIMG3907 copy

Instead of the Red Hook that once existed as a monstrous powerhouse of Globalization and epitome of capitalism, we have a small self-sustaining community who make their livelihood in the skeleton of industrial Brooklyn. The machines they use to create works of art, masonry, upholstery, wine, beer, whiskey, chocolate, deserts…etc. are not as Marx would have them, they are tools for communal production that further the artisanal knowledge of a craft. In that sense, the Red Hook of the 1920’s idealized Marx’s Gundrisse but today, is closer to Heidegger’s humanist take in understanding technology. The question of whether the individual operating the machinery is the creator or the machine itself is answered today in Red Hook differently than it was in the early XXth Century

CIMG3887 copy

What I find interesting is how eerily calm and vibrant this community is. As I’ve mentioned they’re set in the skeletal stomach of an industrialized past which can be understood as a disciplinary society. Red Hook in the 20’s was a machine in itself, and the alienated worker sacrificing his labor force to get a piece of the profit he/she creates, exists in a Foucault-ian disciplinary system. This is exemplified by the prison-like structure of these old factories that emulate the essence of the Panopticon. The buildings are now home to artists studios, two of which I’ve visited, that of John Jerard and another belonging to Dustin Yellin both of which have broken the shackles of an industrialized mechanized past and now create works that directly oppose the idea of the disciplinary society and perhaps even more so, what Deleuze identifies as the next step: a society of control. The buildings which house the studios of craftsmen/women are all open to the public, the entrance to the buildings are never locked and hardly surveilled. In its serenity and open mindedness, Red Hook seems to have escaped the society of control that exists in more urban areas and traditional corporate buildings.

CIMG3968 copy

CIMG3948 copy

Nicolas Boulad

~ by Nicolas Boulad on September 24, 2013.

2 Responses to “Red Hook, how does freedom feel?”

  1. The very first picture grabbed my attention!

  2. I would come back to this because the connection between the title and the images caught my attention.

Comments are closed.