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Accepted Paper:

New York’s Waterfront and the Architecture of Queer Memory  
Dennis Ohm (McGill University)

Paper Abstract:

The Hudson River Waterfront of New York, colloquially known as the “Piers”, emerged as a queer subcultural space in the 1960s and 70s, when the abandoned, deteriorating pier sheds became sites for gathering, sex work, art, and cruising. With the creation of the Hudson River Park in the late 90s – a heteronormative architecture of policing, surveillance, and dispossession –, the Piers and the adjacent neighborhood were rapidly gentrified. Recently, there has been a proliferation in cultural memory of the Piers in art spaces, the academy, cultural institutions, and queer communities alike. In 2020, the Whitney Museum dedicated the $18 million sculpture Day’s End by artist David Hammons, a thin steel structure that re-traces the outlines of one of the pier buildings and memorializes the Waterfront’s past. Drawing on archival research and interviews with curators, artists, and community members, this paper traces the renewed interest in the queer archive of the waterfront and investigates the simultaneity of memorialization and dispossession considering questions of queer space, architecture, and temporality. The emergent cultural memory of the Piers often relies on accounts and visual records that locate gay pre-AIDS sexual possibility in crumbling ruins, producing an (architectural) imaginary of sexual revolution that simplifies, transfigures, and erases parts of its history. In examining the Waterfront’s queer history alongside how the site is being remembered, this paper seeks to complicate nostalgic longings for the Pier’s past and to understand the politics, desires, and temporalities underpinning memories and historiographies of the Piers.

Panel P171
Waterfront speculation: doing and undoing maritime urban spaces
  Session 1 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -