Christian Hincapié, Emily Jacir, Rose Salane
At the entrance to “Return Sale” at Abrons Arts Center, Rose Salane’s A Memory From (2002<2020) (2021) can be seen through a smallish hole in a standalone wall. A metal rack affixed to the wall beyond it, resembling a coat check or shop kiosk, displays ready-to-wear designer clothing with the tags still attached, their surfaces plastered with colorful reduced-price stickers.
For me, the image recalled the glorious moments in May and June 2020 when encrypted chat groups continuously telegraphed which stores were being looted in big cities across the US. People were changing exchange value into use value, redistributing and sharing what they could. As Crimethinc wrote at the time: “The looting was not a way to capitalize on a movement. It was a shattering of status symbols that are predicated on racial exclusion.”
Salane purchased the clothes and rack from a Century 21 near the World Trade Center (WTC) as the department store rushed to liquidate all of its assets in 2020—a tale of the supposedly immovable object of postwar neoliberal consumption meeting an unstoppable force in the Covid-19 pandemic. The irony of the store’s name seems almost planned.The other works at Abrons also deal with the connections between the Lower Manhattan urban environment and retail, particularly in post-9/11 New York, where development has consistently privileged commerce and surveillance in equal measure. Past a dark and heavy curtain, Emily Jacir’s full-room installation My America (I am still here) (2000), shown for the first time in 20 years, seems a classical work of Conceptual art: 31 framed exhibits, each including a photograph and a receipt. Over the course of a month during Jacir’s residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council—then located on the 91st floor of WTC—she bought one object from a different shop in the building’s mall every day and returned it, creating an archive. A process in which the resulting documents produce a snapshot of the game of consumption, “performing the fantasies of mobility that retail and commerce symbolize,” as the curatorial text elegantly puts it.
Further along, Christian Hincapié contributes photographs taken with infrared film that zoom out and capture the infrastructure of WTC surrounds, picturing the 1988 Garden Atrium of the World Financial Center—a glass spectacle epitomizing the climate-controlled, duty-free aesthetics of neoliberal planning. (It was the first building to be rebuilt after 9/11.) In another series of photos ranging from 2012–21, he pictures lone cleaners at work in Lower Manhattan sites (Westfield World Trade Center, Zuccotti Park), their labor made simultaneously more essential and more precarious by Covid-19.
Walking out of the exhibition, I read another line from the Crimethinc. piece as I returned to it on my phone: “The thing that really sticks with you after the looting stops is not the random clothes that you don’t even want, nor an accurate account of which windows shattered when—it is the lived experience that life could be different. It’s a collective knowledge and we’re still learning.” Taken together, the works in the show succeed in making urban space palpable in a different way than how it is informed by global consumption patterns. In this case, it’s a New York City story, a dérive, a love letter to the persistence of community and political mobilization even in environments built to prevent them. —Andreas Petrossiants
Christian Hincapié, Untitled, 2022. Archival inkjet print on diazotype (blueprint), 80 X 40 inches. Photo courtesy the artist.