Steve Duncan, an urban explorer, was showing us photos shot in some of the great underground spaces he has visited, from the catacombs of Rome to the steam tunnels of Stockholm to Manhattan’s bygone waterways. He flashed on the spot where the original Spring Street met Canal—a New York City landmark, finally revealed.We were in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in a soaring warehouse space looking out onto Wallabout Bay, but our minds were in the sewer, because that’s where our speaker wanted them to be.
That was just one of the discoveries in Friday night’s mix of speakers and performers from different creative communities assembled by The Lost Lectures in partnership with Hyperallergic, the art blogazine run by Hrag Vartanian and Veken Gueyikian. Signing up for the event requires a certain leap of faith—you buy your tickets ($20 last year, $50 this year) before you know where you’re going, or even the final bill, but you know it’s someplace you normally can’t visit. That’s how we ended up in the vast campus that dates back to the Revolutionary War and is now an industrial park.
About 700 people materialized to see a lineup including journalist Jon Ronson, who gave a poignant talk on Twitter shaming; sculptor Diana Al-Hadid, who revealed her inspirations and tactics for advancing beyond the dreaded blank page; filmmaker Josephine Decker, and subway performers Andrew Kalleen, Cameron Or, and Len Xiang.
Among the surprises was Tao Lin, who’s best known as a poet and novelist but here showed his visual art—the colorful, minimal sad-sack creatures he’s made on apps like Microsoft Paint and with old-fashioned collage.
There was the bored banana jumping in a swimming pool, a gas-powered ocean sunfish-alligator hybrid, a solitary Sasquatch, and the pink-clad manatee who can’t concentrate (back story: Kafka article for Bookforum due tomorrow). The audience related.
Also deeply affecting, though not in the way we expected, was Kazuo Makino, who was there with her bandmates, Simone and Amedeo Pace, from North Brooklyn indie group Blonde Redhead. But the band didn’t play. Instead, Makino gave a different kind of New York City travelogue—a spoken, affectionate narrative of the places where the group made music (and noise, forcing more moves…) since they came together in 1993. Hearing how the Japan-born musician and her Italian-born partners zig-zagged across Manhattan and Brooklyn as they pursued their artistic passion was intimate and universal, a story of real estate and creativity traced through one band’s discography.
A handout with a city map appeared, marking the spots where each Blonde Redhead album was created. The straightforward IDS took on their own poetry.
“In an Expression Of the Inexpressible was Written on Westbeth St. in the Artist building basement with mice.”
“La Mia Vita Violenta Written on Rivington St between Ludlow & Chrystie downstairs from a Mexican brothel.”
“Misery is A Butterfly was begun on Mott Street but we left because there was no oxygen in 2BF. The album was written all over New York.”
More hidden landmarks that were new discoveries in “Lost Lectures.”
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to clarify that Lost Lectures teamed with Hyperallergic to organize the event.