January 23, 2008

Pier 51

I lensed a series of photographs of several defunct piers in Greenwich Village in the late 1970s, early 1980s. They were a kind of Death in Venice on the Hudson River, and each year Pier 51, the hangout and hookup favorite on the north edge of the Village, sank deeper into the drink. Ruins are sexy. With each new lurch it became more dangerous, more exotic, more alluring.


The interior, a vast dark cavern, was pierced with dusty light where gashes in its corrugated walls were opened by each new twist in its grotesque but romantic demise. At one point artist Gordon Matta-Clark had cut a handful of geometric-shaped perforations in the corrugated steel walls. The most compelling of these was a moon-like crescent cut high up in the far wall of the main warehouse's three-story cavern; the sky-light which it emitted gave the huge darkling "moon room" a cultic atmosphere that would have stirred the heart of a Mayan priest.



By the summer of 1980, the floor inside the huge space was warped at its far end to a near forty-five degree angle that dipped to the height of a full story. Seagulls sailed through jack-o-lantern chinks open to the western sky. The river glittered darkly underfoot between unexpected chasms in the sloping floor. Strangely enough, I don't recall having heard of anyone being injured by the structure itself, which seemed to wrench and stumble in secret, unobserved. The disorientation that its skewed interior environment worked on one's perceptions only stimulated the erotic playground which it had by then become. Day and night it was cruised and stalked. Turn a corner, exit a passageway, you were as likely to encounter a scene from your fondest wet dream as from your grimmest nightmare. The more inhibitions fell, the deeper the pier sank, and the more fantastic its inner landscape became. By the end of the decade, the debauched and dire 70s, the bizarre landmark finally lurched beyond any but the most dedicated access from the street. And there it sat, until the city finally had it disassembled and hauled away, a dragon dissolving in its own doomed fantasies.






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