Local Retail Vibrancy in Sobro Bronx

•February 14, 2018 • 2 Comments

I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. Walking down the streets of Bronx, I felt lost. Lost but in peace. Bronx was definitely not Manhattan – there were no buildings ominously towering over my head, shielding the blue sky from my sights, imposing a sense of intimidation, a sense of belittlement. Walking away from the jungles of gray to a place so free of noise, so free of traffic, so free of people, I felt a wild sense of unease, and at the same time a sense of pleasure from liberation. It seemed that the perils of perfect competition has not yet reached the borough.

Wandering aimlessly through the borough, I was amazed by how little there was. Coming from Midtown, Manhattan, where you can spot at least one Duane Reade or a CVS every 3 blocks, the scarcity of convenient stores, let alone shops, was pretty bizarre. I did come across several small size grocery stores, but it seemed that in order to access a diverse array of produce – like those in Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s for example – the residents would need a car to go to a larger shopping mall.

In that, I could definitely feel how Bronx emanated a different “affect” from Manhattan. In Vibrant Matter, Brennett argues, “there is transmission by which people become alike and transmission in which they take up opposing positions in relation to a common affective thread. The form of transmission whereby people become alike is a process whereby one person’s or one group’s nervous and hormonal systems are brought into alignment with another’s.” Similarly, I could definitely see that the residents of Bronx uniformly exhibited a rather laid-back, easy going, calm “affect,” in contrast to the people in Manhattan who seems to be always driven, busy, and indifferent to their surroundings. It was interesting to see how the affect of the setting could differ so drastically even in a borough only a few subway stations away from Manhattan.

The difference in affect has nudged me to wonder where the difference in affect stems from. In Media Ecologies, Fuller describes the term media ecologies as “environmentalism: using a study of media to sustain a relatively stable notion of human culture.” The term also includes the study of information flows, such as the “interrelationship with knowledge and time management processes.” For this project, I also hope to study the reason behind the way the borough is shaped in the way it has, and why it seems to attract a certain demographic with a particular affective quality that is so divergent from the people in Manhattan. Why is there a discrepancy in the topographical layout of the borough, and how can we stimulate the local economy to minimize the discrepancy in retail vibrancy?

For my next visit to the cite, I hope to visit some of the shopping districts of Southern Bronx, and observe the shopping habits of the residents.

 

Work Cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Fuller, Matthew. Media ecologies: materialist energies in art and technoculture. The MIT Press, 2007.

 

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A visit to Flushing — The Rising Chinatown

•February 14, 2018 • 2 Comments

When someone mentions “Chinatown”, what do you usually think of? Tourists, authentic restaurants, Chinese culture, 90s style Hong Kong nylon style shop sighs, or simply a messy and unorganized Asian neighborhood? To me, it is probably the last category that I usually associate with Chinatown. As a Chinese myself for over twenty years, I always remember the first time when I visited Chinatown in Manhattan, and how disappointed I was when seeing “China” constructed as a crowded, noisy, outdated, and somehow smelly “marketplace.” Now I’ve been living in New York for almost two years yet every time I visit Chinatown, the same affect is there, one that is strong, yet definitely not enjoyable.

 

I took this affect with me when heading into Flushing, the newly-established and rapidly developing Chinatown. It is a long trip – located in Queens, it usually takes at least half an hour to get to Flushing’s main street where most businesses are built in. As I saw through the window of the taxi, the streets become empty and I could barely see tall buildings. I started to feel I was entering a new world, or somehow, a suburban area separated from the modern, big city.

 

I got off the car and immediately felt like I’ve flied back to China: unlike the old Manhattan Chinatown, flushing is obviously more developed and modern. The streets are relatively wider, and demographics is more diverse: people passing by spoke dialects of different provinces in China and there were more young and middle-aged residents dressing in stylish ways.

 

“It is much clearer than I expected it to be,” my friend, who is also a Chinese student, said to me while we were passing through the crowds and the supermarkets (I am not exaggerating here but along the streets we barely saw any other business besides supermarkets and restaurants), “I feel I am at my hometown, preparing for the lunar new year.” In China, the “hometowns” are usually the less-developed rural places where our parents or grand-parents are born. True, though much more improved than old Chinatowns, flushing as a neighborhood is still well regulated in terms of its outlook: trash bags were piled along the streets, small trashes were almost everywhere.

 

I found the “rain gardens” in front of the United States Postal Service building on the main street, standing beside it is another big supermarket. These gardens were originally built to beautify the neighborhoods, clean the air and reduce pollution in local waterways. However, during the harsh winter, the city barely rains, and the “rain gardens” become “dry gardens” where people throw trashes of all kind, including cans, plastic bags, and even newspapers. However, though the trashes apparently are annoying and smelly, no one seem to care. Photographing besides the rain gardens, the pass-byers gave me the strange look as if saying “what is she doing there with a pile of trashes and died trees?”

 

To have trash everywhere seems like a norm of Chinatown. The more time I spent in Flushing, the less conscious or concerned I became about the pollutions. While people walking around me all look indifferent to the trashes, I started to accept such norm as part of the neighborhood experience. However, when I recalled the essay “Vibrant Matter” written by Jane Bennett, I started to think about the “vital materiality” of the junk. According to Bennett, “[…] my hunch is that the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption (Bennett, 6).” The junk both inside the rain gardens and on the streets in Flushing are usually seen as external dead items that are not directly connected to the residents’ life. However, by claiming public space for their owns, the junk makes their appearance a widely-accepted norm in the neighborhood, which is, making their harm and damages to the environment almost “invisible” to humans as they do not care. This phenomenon is an example of showing the agency and independence of material or inorganic goods. In “Life after New Media,” the authors point out the importance for media scholars to pay “critical attention” to these non-human agencies, an idea that “transcends human-centered intentionality by foregrounding the ‘entangled state of agencies’ at work in any event (Kember and Zylinska, 186).” While I was walking on the street, I analyzed why the junk got ignored from a human’s perspective, thinking about people being self-centered or lazy. Nevertheless, I overlooked the power of the junk — how it is being created, what is the texture and composition, etc.

 

I kept walking forward and sensed the strong holiday vibe. There were red Chinese Lanterns hanging in front of almost every shop, and the music with festival lyrics were playing loud. People went for shopping in the supermarket, searching for the fresh fruit and vegetables, preparing for a big dinner with their family. They were chatting and laughing, bustling with noise and excitement while the trashes are still lying out there, quiet yet powerful.

 

Work Cited:

 

Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.” Duke University Press, 2010.

Kember, Sarah and Zylinska, Johanna. “Creative Media Manifesto.” Life after New Media. The MIT Press, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Ol’ Elmhurst

•February 14, 2018 • 2 Comments

Stepping out of the Roosevelt Avenue subway station, I find myself assaulted by a lack of noise, or rather, the muted hustle and bustle that comes with the area, a quiet sort of rush as Asians both elderly and young scurry to and fro in their day to day activities. It is jarring, a stark contrast with the heavy industrial bustling of Manhattan where I usually mark my territory.

Walking along the Avenue, I find a row of laundromats where two Indonesian restaurants, Asian Taste 86 and Sky Cafe, are nestled inconspicuously. The impression I get is immediately one of home, as the pictures of the mouthwatering traditional cuisine and stark colors of the national flag assault my eyes, transmitting an “affect” as Theresa Brennan terms it. As she says, “By the transmission of affect, I mean simply that the emotions or affects of one person, and the enhancing or depressing energies these affects entail, can enter into another (Brennan, The Transmission of Affect).”

Standing there gazing upon the two secluded food joints, I can certainly feel the emotions and affects of the owners being transmitted to my own body, the taste, smell, sight, and feel of a plate of Rendang already forming in my mind and spreading through my senses, even before I step inside and order a plate. But I had to pull myself away, and move on.

Walking further down Broadway for a while, I pass all manner of other Asian restaurants and stores, including several churches, before arriving at my destination, a quaint, minuscule, hole-in-the-wall shop called Indo Java, a staple of the Indonesian community. Again, upon stepping in an affect is transmitted to my body, and I can feel myself reliving childhood experiences roaming through mini-markets back home and looking for sweets and treats.

It is here that my media documentation plays a vital part, an essential contribution to my media ecology in the sense of environmentalism. As Matthew Fuller says, “Here ‘media ecology’ describes a kind of environmentalism: using a study of media to sustain relatively stable notion of human culture (Fuller, Media Ecologies).” Here I am attempting to use media documentation to preserve a stable culture, a diaspora community ingraining its roots in a land far away from home, but never failing to conjure up images of home.

– Adil Akbar

Works Cited:

Matthew Fuller, Introduction to Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture.

Theresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect, 2004

Promenade of Industry, where the Squirrel eats tin foil

•February 14, 2018 • 6 Comments

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Each and every physical, material, inorganic/organic matters around is definitely delivering an affect to me (Brennan), LIVE: I’ve been walking on a promenade for more than 30 minutes after I got off the 7 train at Mets-Willets Point, and the station getting smaller and smaller as I walked away. This is the promenade connecting Corona and Flushing, hovering over a large parking lot where scrapped cars jammed together. The airport is definitely nearby, for I’ve heard the 8th airplane flying by at a rather low altitude. Looking back to Mets-Willets Station, I saw a huge industrial chimneys breathing out grey clouds of smoke, which finally scattered around and darkened the sky a little bit. This is a perfect environment for a semi-deserted post-industrial place.

But the Mets-Willets Point is only one stop away from Flushing Main Street Station. The large Flushing residential area is sitting only a couple of blocks away from the promenade that I’m walking on. Apartment buildings and huge billboards were reflecting the sunlight and casting a shadow. It’s hard to make a connection between Flushing residential area and this promenade; they are so different: one is busy and alive, the other is quiet and desolate. But indeed, they are so close, only less than a mile away from each other.

I’ve almost walked to the end of the promenade, and here came a calm water—the Flushing creak. The promenade and the subway are not the only connector between these two places: the Flushing creak is the natural link between the two places as well: the branches of creak are available to see in several downtown Flushing areas. The water seemed fine at a distance. It was a sunny afternoon and the sunlight was gilding a gold-plating on the water. But zooming in—zooming in—zooming in. I saw a Dr. Pepper bottle, a Sprite can, some other plastic bottles without belted labels that were not distinguishable. White and red plastic bags were lying there, with stripes of plastic straying around. Two or three iron wires half floated on the water—by saying half floated I mean half of them remained onshore whereas the other half was soaked into the water. The color of water turned into a suspicious greenish grey color. Is the greenness of water because of the proliferation of algae? I couldn’t help but recollecting that once my city called up for several campaigns to clean up the algae in the river because the algae made the water smell terrible and the fish hard to live. I wanted to get closer to figure out the smell of the river, however I caught a bad cold the night before, and my nose was not functioning at all.  I guess the smell of the water will have to be unveiled a week after.

Brennan in her essay elaborates how the vital materiality of THINGS/actants equals affect (Brennan). The rusted cans, the turning-yellow plastic bottles, the simmering iron wires, the greenish-grey water, the dark black soil with stripes of plastic bags in it, the starting-to-rot root of trees and bushes, the already-died-out grass on the shore, and the grey coming-out-of-an-industrial-chimney smoke on the sky. Every single object in this environment is informing me that the water in this creak is NOT CLEAN, or poisonous perhaps, and that the water is threatening the vitality of “inorganic” objects evolved in this environment (The water is too calm, and there might not be living creatures in the water). The promenade actually belts a post-industrial brownfield, where the heavy metal such as mercury and lead contaminates most of the soil and the water. The land here is not at all fertile, and the water too dirty to be home for fish and turtles, so people dumped trash here without concern. The situation is made worse by the careless littering, thus making the water and soil more infertile.

Then the idea that the creak is actually running water suddenly jumped into my mind. Where would the water go? And how will it affect the organic/inorganic matters wherever it goes? Or… the Flushing residential area is only blocks away, will the water threaten residents’ health? I was concerning the possible harm while walking on the promenade, and a squirrel ran into my sight. It is obviously not as chubby as those in Washington Square Park, and is smaller in size. The squirrel circled around the creak bank for a few seconds, as if it was looking for something. Then it grabbed a piece of tin foil which was littered on the grass and started to eat it. It WAS precisely eating the tin foil, without any hesitation, nor any pause. Tin foil, the “supplementary food” for this squirrel, was eaten all by the squirrel within a minute. Then the squirrel looked around and jumped away, leaving me flabbergasted on the promenade. The actant of this squirrel made it harder to imagine how the residents living near the polluted creak are affected.

Work Cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

A Challenge Worth A Thousand Bolts

•February 14, 2018 • 1 Comment

I approach a small beige building with the letters PSE&G on the front of it. To the right of it I see large metal gates with signs hanging that say “DANGER,” “HIGH VOLTAGE,” and “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.” I take a step back and look up to see what looks like a deathly tall jungle gym made of all sorts of metals and wires. I decide to look at it from across the street.

Before I approached the building I didn’t think I’d have such a strong reaction to just observing it. In the Transmission of Affect, Teresa Brennan explores the ways in which affect translates physically. She says, “We will find that sight is the preferred mechanism in explaining any form of transmission…” Sight allows us to understand objects at face value. If my sight was taken away the moment I was in front of the PSE&G building, I would have been able to smell wood, dirt, and metal. I could make assumptions of where the smells were coming from, but it wouldn’t make my body tense up the way it did when I looked straight at the danger sign and the metal contractions that were behind it. It’s not that I necessarily felt scared, but I felt a sense of not belonging. Not in the way that a person doesn’t belong in a social gathering, but in the way that a person wouldn’t belong pulling at a loose electrical wire.

After deciding to look at the electrical site from across the street, I walked through the grass towards the gym and the juice shop down the street. I noticed a couple of trees a long the way. Those trees made my tense body relax. It was as if they reminded me that there were still natural living organisms that could offer a puff of fresh air in a heavily populated city. In Media Ecologies, Matthew Fuller explains some of the complexities that come with animate and inanimate objects. He says, “All objects have poetics; they make the world and take part in it, and at the same time, synthesize, block, or make possible other worlds” (Media Ecologies. Matthew Fuller.). Fuller allowed me to realize the two worlds that existed in front of me. The metals and wires I was looking at brought an environment of technological advancement that seemed to be scraping the earth of its original beauty. The trees around me put me in an environment of familiarity in nature, which brought with it a sense of freshness and detoxification. Thinking about these two different environments intertwine makes me want to close my laptop and challenge my senses at that same site again.

Sources

Matthew Fuller. Media Ecologies. MIT Press.

Teresa Brennan. Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press.

Art and Extinction

•February 6, 2018 • 5 Comments

I have visited the Hudson yards area multiple times, and spend an even greater time in Chelsea’s gallery spaces. For my first site visit I unfortunately only had time to explore the Hudson Yards development area, I’ll dive deeper into Chelsea as an effected ecology in the coming weeks. In the scope of my research and of this project, I will be treating Hudson Yards as the main actant of sorts. I have yet to delve into the micro actants, but from what I observed during my site visit the main players/actants will be the gallery owners and studio residents themselves. I would consider the many galleries and creation spaces that make up Chelsea and the surrounding area to be a creative assemblage. I understand the importance of specification when it comes to projects like this, so during this week I will be isolating specific impacts on individual spaces/people/businesses that Hudson Yards has had on these bodies in the Chelsea area.

The Hudson Yards development itself is also an odd, visually modern assemblage. I think that the area comes off as very impending and ominous, this may be due in part to its unfinished state, but also has to do with the massive scale of the buildings in such close proximity. Brian Massumi touches on this phenomenon briefly when he discusses intensity. He states that the “strength or duration of the image’s effect could be called intensity” (Massumi 24). I believe the silhouette that is being constructed is meant to create a looming and lasting image, thus adding to the intensity in the aesthetics of the area.

As of now people can’t engage with the site further than glancing beyond the fences, I believe a few areas are open to the public like the Hudson Yards café, but I have yet to have the chance to go in. Chelsea, I feel, is interacted with in a more tactile and aimless way. People weave in and out of galleries and explore the space freely and without structure. The Highline aids in this free expression of space exploration, and is another important factor in the Chelsea assemblage.

I have quite a large amount of questions, the most prevalent being; who is the most impacted by the establishment of this new city area? How will this development change the surrounding area in the coming months, years, or decades? Where will the next art hot spot be if Chelsea does commercialize and become disillusioned? Most of these questions may never be definitively answered, but I know that broad targeting questions like these are important as I dive deeper into this study. My most pressing question for myself is, how am I going to find specific businesses or persons to study and interview for this project? I need to figure out how to isolate specific stores and narratives that are directly impacted by this development, especially since I have a lot of background knowledge on the Yards but significantly less on Chelsea as an area.

I think the most obvious challenge with my site is that I choose an issue that isn’t necessarily visually immediate. Migration especially because of inflation is a slow and painful process, and documenting this process may be difficult on my end. On the flip side delving deeper into Hudson Yards and the direction it is growing in has also proven to be difficult. My past research revealed that private developments don’t need to make a lot of information available to the public. Only specific plans are revealed for certain buildings, and the decision making process is almost completely out of the public eye. So I really will be observing more of the affects that the Yards has and will not be so much predicting these changes and what they’ll do to the surrounding area while being rolled out. I want to understand the makings of what turned Chelsea into what it is today, because I think giving the space contextual relevance will help me understand the magnitude of it being slowly disbanded by an even bigger and more expensive development. I also want to look into the zoning plans for the spaces that have already been cleared in the immediate gallery area. If I remember correctly a Neiman Marcus is meant to open up near the highline, and any gallery smaller than David Zwirner is at risk of being forced out once the area commercializes. The cycle of populating an area, introducing culture, having said culture be followed by flocks of wealthy people attempting to participate, and then having the same people who populated the area be driven out is a sad reality of the life cycle of areas in New York.

I understand that I have a lot of work and research ahead of me, but I am very excited to dive deeper into this project and learn on a more granular level how people are being affected by these migration patterns. Art is something I hold very dear to me, and its painful to see gallery spaces suffer just because they aren’t big players monetarily. Hopefully this research will help me understand why these things happen and possibly how prevention and stabilization can be achieved.

Works Cited

Matthew Fuller, pp. 1-5, Introduction to Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture, 2007

Affect Through Infrastructures

•February 4, 2018 • 2 Comments

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New York Times named what might be the hardest job in New Jersey: Executive Director of New Jersey Transit. For most who have lived in both New Jersey and New York City, it’s no brainer why Kevin Corbett, who recently stepped into this position, has the toughest job in New Jersey. In 2016, just the NJ Transit trains, not including the just as problematic New York subway system, had 236 major mechanical failures. These breakdowns not only cause headaches for those working for the transportation system, but even more so for the hundreds of thousands commuters that rely on these trains to get them to and from where they need to be in one smooth and safe trip. Aside from the inconvenience and utter annoyance brought on by these malfunctions, for many the stakes and consequences are much higher. The constant delays and disruptions can make even the most prepared and punctual person late for work, and failure to arrive on time means reprimands and even dismissal for those who have jobs that aren’t as flexible.

In Teresa Brennan’s “The Transmission of Affect,” she notes at the get-go of her piece that “The ‘atmosphere’ or the environment literally gets into the individual (Brennan 1).” A further analysis of this statement reveals that our surroundings whether living or inanimate in their own ways produce affect that we unconsciously assimilate to. For those where commuting has become a part of their daily life, so has the insufferable experience of going through the system and process of making it from point A to point B. Going through the station during the earliest hours of the day, you are surrounded by the same people who are all just trying to make it through the ticketing stations, waiting, eyes all staring intensely at the timetable, rushing to the platform entryway, pushing and cramming through the narrow staircases, and then finally making your way onto the train, packing yourselves tightly together like an overflowing luggage. No matter if its the people, or the architecture and details of the station, or even the crowds and wait, these are all actants of the atmosphere that is felt by those conglomerated together in the station. As Brennan made clear, this “transmission of affect” is “a process that is social in origin but biological and physical in effect (Brennan 2). In the case of the NJ Transit system it is clear the problem with its dysfunctions is rooted in the lack of authorities and efforts to develop a much more efficient and reliable system for people who heavily depend on these trains to help them make a living.

Being their myself, even on a weekend, you could physically feel the tension from the riders. My train was set to arrive at 11:14 AM, however, at 11:00 AM, everyone was crowded and hovering over each other by the platform entrance. Once they announced that the train was arriving, everyone packed in, and you could see the annoyance and discomfort on faces of the riders. All unwilling to be in a situation like that, but at the same being active participators in the tense atmosphere. One would think with this level of intensity just to board a train there would be more active efforts to resolve or even alleviate this issue. This is not to say the authorities have turned a blind eye to the deterioration of the decades old train stations, there just as been too many events in a short amount of time that have raised immense concern. On top of that, those who’ve stepped into the position have been more focused on putting efforts towards flashier projects, rather than mend what is already broken. Walking around Newark Penn Station, the one thing I couldn’t ignore were the narrow staircases that led to the platform. Already narrow as it was, one of the doors was inoperable so it was taped down with a caution tape, blocking off another entry way for riders. Maybe a temporary issue, however, the caution tape was like a putting a duct tape over a leak. This objects that play a role within this system, this assemblage, are overlooked by those who have the power to change and help those who need the help. In Jane Bennnett’s Vibrant Matter, she argues for the recognition of the vitality of all objects, including rocks, garbage, and spools of thread. This principle can be easily applied to all the parts that make up of the NJ Transit infrastructures that make a difference and shape the interrelationships within the system.

There are a lot of directions I can go towards for my research on this ecology. I could direct my research towards the commuters, and even narrow down my research on specific commuters of the train. However, I’m also extremely interested in the infrastructure and the actual systems that are behind the NJ transit system. Unlike this first time at the site, I do hope that I can catch the rush hour on weekdays in order to capture the accurate environment and atmosphere of what it really is like during the turbulent mornings at these stations.

 

Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004.