At the start of 2016, after two years at their second-floor studio on Metropolitan Avenue, non-profit library and writing space Wendy’s Subway moved two stops down the L train to a storefront at 379 Bushwick Avenue. The move wasn’t necessarily by choice— in April DNAinfo reported that other artists who refused to move from the warehouse at the request of landlord Barnett Brickner ended up locked into a costly legal battle, and managing board member Rachel Valinsky told us they were “essentially evicted, as most people in Brooklyn studios end up at some point or another.” But, to borrow from colloquial literary metaphor, every cloud has a silver lining, and they’ve been making the most of their new, smaller space since announcing their first open hours January 31.
Last night, we stopped by their double book release of The Instead, a conversation between Emily Abendroth and Miranda Mellis, as well as Black Box: A Record of The Catastrophe from the Black Box Collective. Valinsky told us that “the speed of having to move at the last minute because of the eviction” has been a hindrance— they’ve only unpacked about a third of their non-circulating collection and everything else is in “a million boxes” in the back. But the install should be finished over the summer. They’re also planning “more intentional programming and intimate events,” like book releases and a monthly film series showcasing populations behaving badly in a socio-political context (the first will be The Exiles on July 27), and deploying their eight, modular library carrels to the BAM Fisher Building for a reading room at the 2016 Next Wave Festival of theater, choreography, dramaturgy, dance, performance and poetry.
Perhaps the biggest programming change is that they’re operating with set hours, from 10 am to 6 pm daily, instead of giving members keys and making the space available 24/7. This may seem like a bum deal for members, but as Valinsky explained, the change allowed them to pilot a residency program with Berlin-based bookstore Motto in the months of February and May. They’ll be moving forward with the residency program on a monthly basis come fall, with different publishers, artists, collections or organizations presenting their printed matter, or any publications and materials that they’re working on and producing there, along with programming associated with their specific mission. Their books or collections will then stay in the Wendy’s library as a permanent installation.
If last night’s release is any indication, Valinsky and her fellow managing board members (still) know what they’re doing. It all kicked off with Abendroth and Mellis reading excerpts from their book-length correspondence, which took place intermittently over a year in 2014 and 2015 after the two met in the Bay Area. It includes a subjective, poetic index by Katie Aymar, framed around 30 questions that come up in the book as the women work through and challenge socio-political issues, weaving a dialogue that deals with everything from a presentation by multidisciplinary artist Alfonso Borragán to the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” music video.
An excerpt courtesy of Abendroth and Mellis:
Will you say more about the commons/exclosure dialectic and how we might relate this to the necessity to remediate language itself as a site where we can do the work of re-siting, or reorienting, from a future-oriented, anticipated, and prefigured, “coming commons,” towards the “present as conjectural” as George Jackson put it? From the “doing time” of incarceration to the “free time” of the leisure class, from the “just in time” of capitalist production to the “end times” of same, we can also see time as a commons. How do our ideas about time inform our political imagination?
If we take your question about time and apply it specifically to “legal time,” to “time and criminal injustice” or “history and criminal injustice,” the job description of lawyers and judges more or less requires that they are only ever allowed to reach current present-tense conclusions on the basis of what has already been decided before, on the technical term of “legal precedent.” Thus, their decisions on any given day are, by mandate, most squarely sited in the past and adjudicated not in response to the living individuals and circumstances before their eyes, but at best (and the U.S. legal system is rarely carried out at its best), in reference to whatever nearest “close match” or “equivalency” can be found within the massive gilt-edged tomes of case studies at their side. It is a process that denies particularity and the present by design, and asks us to award that denial with the name “fairness” or the name “impartiality,” for which we could just as easily imagine other names. For instance: “Now-Time’s Excluder” or “The Mortal Crush of Ushered Equivalencies” or “That Which Categorically Smudges Out What It Judges.”
Next Eirik Steinhoff took to the mic. After observing that the tight columns of seated audience members in the space typically reserved for two long tables made it look like they were actually on a train, he explained that the Black Box project was born out of his involvement with “a group of philosophers and poets and scholars and critics who had been gathering for many years at a dairy farm north of Seattle, a farm called Smoke Farm, no longer in operation as a dairy farm. There are no cows,” he said, “just a bunch of people who like to read Walter Benjamin wandering around the premises.”
Mixing poetry with political theory, the record of the catastrophe is the collective’s “first attempt to assemble a critique that might awaken use from the dream world that is so efficiently reproduced by capitalist culture.” It includes work by Abendroth, Mellis and Steinhoff; essays by Sami Khatib articulating some of the arguments in Walter Benjamin’s critique on violence; a piece by Peter Wieben on ship-breaking in Bangladesh; and a similar kind of essay— in terms of doing journalistic work— by Tanya Erzen on the Angola prison farm in Louisiana. In addition, epigrams by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal “end up affording some surprising perspective on our contemporary political moment and perhaps our political future,” said Steinhoff before he read Cardenal’s poem “Somoza Unveils the Statue of Somoza in Somoza Stadium,” which is included in the book. “I’ll say only this: Trump.”
If you missed out, the next double release celebration, an O’Clock Press Release Party, will take place Saturday, July 9 at 7:30 pm. O’Clock’s two new releases are In Dirt of Saltwater by Desiree C. Bailey and The horses that come out of our heads by Nathanaël. Both books will be available for the first time at the event, and there will be readings by Bailey, Francesca Capone (who recently released an artbook, Manuscript Fragment), Marwa Helal and Charleen McClure. “We did one of their launches earlier on in our old space, so the next reading will be kind of a return to Wendy’s Subway with the new books they just put out,” assures Valinsky.
Wendy’s Subway is now located at 379 Bushwick Avenue. Hours for the library and workspace are 10 am to 6 pm daily.