For weeks, I’ve been carrying around a piece of paper with handwritten digits for an underground landline. The number belongs to The Newsstand, a pop-up shop that, for about a month, inhabited a small storefront inside the Metropolitan Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, New York. It featured a rotating selection of independently published magazines, zines, art books, and other printed gems, as well as exhibitions, performances, and book launch parties.
Shortly after hearing about the project, I happened upon it as I exited the L train one evening. In a sparely designed and quiet alcove, I noticed thoughtfully considered racks of publications and a few people who seemed unsure of what to make of being there. I lingered, checking out everything from cheap zines to beautifully crafted art books, including selections from OHWOW and Small Editions. On the way out, I grabbed a free takeaway for my next train ride.
In subsequent weeks, I watched the space swell in terms of artists, projects, and events. One day, I spoke with resident artists Maia Ruth Lee and Peter Sutherland about the images on the exterior walls, and also to Lele Saveri about his role in managing the space and bringing artists together. I checked out new publications as a team of photographers spoke with Lee about taking her portrait for inclusion in a project of their own. A few moments later, Saveri mentioned to me an upcoming event with San Francisco publisher Hamburger Eyes. He scribbled down the phone number for The Newsstand landline before being pulled into another conversation by other passersby.
Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tracked the average weekday subway ridership in New York City at 5.4 million people—it is a sprawling beast of a network, breathing hot air through its tunnels on these sweltering summer days. Sometimes it offers quiet moments, punctuated by the unexpected arrival of a cool, well-timed train. But more often than not, stepping in with a crowd serves as a constant reminder of our physicality on the most basic levels as we vie for—or sacrifice—personal space. There are the small graces exchanged between strangers, and the small world moments of encountering friends on a random train.
The Newsstand left me thinking about the evolving network it engendered and how that connects to the subway space where it was situated. Each revolves around a system of hubs that branch out to intricate lines that tie them together. It goes without saying that we, as artists, need to network with others to build ties and find different forms of support. Perhaps what makes The Newsstand unique is how it visually portrays the expansion of a network, operating at an accelerated speed due to both the temporary nature of the installation and its location in a space that brings thousands of commuters through on a daily basis.
In The Newsstand there is an inherent focus on materiality, that is, in its emphasis on printed matter and zine culture, and personal engagement. Living in an age where exchanging information usually involves cell phones and text messaging, the very existence of a landline becomes novel again—but this does not negate the power of social media. In fact, the tools of social media helped artists participating in The Newsstand to get the word out. And yet the experience of the project is ultimately about a kind of face time that has little to do with a digital tool or iPhone.
Two days before The Newsstand closed, I again walked through the Metropolitan Street station and this time happened upon a party. In addition to a roving photographer, a guest DJ named Chances With Wolves played a set inside the space. An older woman wearing dark sunglasses with an American flag bandana tied around her head was speaking with Lele. Clusters of people chatted while a nearby safety cone anchored a balloon, a happy-faced and impartial guard. As both this project and subway corridors reveal, we have the tools to bring people together but what will actually unfold is a mysterious network all its own.
The Newsstand was open from June 15 to July 20, 2013. Read more about the project at www.alldayeveryday.com.