Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Untitled, Clam/Lens by Alex Branch and Amina Cain

This work was created during the WoW/UNY Governors Island Residency. Alex Branch was in residence on Governors Island from October 15-31, 2018.

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And if I had lived differently, in a different part of the ocean? If I had lived in a different ocean altogether, would I too be different? If I was burrowing in warm water at the base of a coral reef instead of in cold water burrowing only into sand. I would miss the snow and ice that turns the ocean colder. I too like seasons, though you might not think it of me. It’s part of what makes me feel alive. I don’t need to go to exotic places, but I do need change. It’s the way I understand time, and even if it wounds me, I respect it a great deal. I see myself among other clams. We look so similar, yet we’re so various inside. One of us enjoys the full moon, another, eels. You wouldn’t think of a clam liking an eel, but why shouldn’t we be excited by other beings in the ocean? We’re not alone here; we know that well. Yet, in a way we are. Sometimes I feel very lonesome even when others are around me. 

Dimensions: 4.5 x 3 inches
Materials: Clam, lens, internal written piece by Amina Cain

Artist Statement: For my residency on Governors Island I planned to work on building models of the boat I'll be making in St. Louis this winter but I couldn't stop working with clams. I had found a clam shell on a trip to Dead Horse Bay earlier in the summer and kept wondering if I could somehow make that clam into a book. While I was on the island I did many experiments with the clam form. This piece was a collaboration between me and the LA based writer Amina Cain who wrote this piece especially for the inside of this clamshell.

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