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.

mool, soom (water, breath) by Jianna Jihyun Park

This work was created during the WoW/UNY Governors Island Residency. Jianna Jihyun Park was in residence on Governors Island from September 4-30, 2018.


wanted to reach the ocean bottom
and fall asleep there, i knew
of the blue caress
shredded sunlight
undercurrent lullaby.
it wasn’t a wish for an end
just a wish for something bluer.
sleepless children dragged
their feet from one stone
to another as the mermaids
tried to snatch them with
refined reef, dreamless sleep,
sheep counting bubbles
coming out of a girl’s gaping mouth.
close. open. no words, no teeth, hollow
cave of semi-pondered abandon.
deep down a whale crooned
open. close. visions undulate, blur—
when i became water
i knew of the coolness of her skin,
endless bed made of sand
where bodies lay
as if sleeping
as if dreaming
dreams leaking
sleepless sea 

sea urchin gently poked into my finger
as I turned the stone and reach for the day’s catch.
“too small,” said the haenyeo who threw it
back to the sea.
on the news, a Chinese lady was preparing dinner
when a crawfish whisker poked her finger—
she died the next day of bacterial infection.
“what about dinner?” a child asks.
the diver who sent the baby urchin back
to the sea says it’s too hot, one can’t dine,
i mean dive, with the wetsuit on.
white reefs can’t tell the living and the dead
while abalones hide deeper into abyss.
on the news, the dinner table is empty
& so is the ocean.

Materials: Digital C-print, clear label film

Artist Statement: How does a body endure grief and guilt at the twilight of neoliberalism that has often overlooked the values such as empathy, community, and sustainability? How is the role of haenyeo (female free divers) who dive into the cold water to collect memories of the ocean similar to that of an artist who seeks to retrieve memories of lost bodies? Combined with the images captured near the island, the texts examine the poetics of grief, loss and breath, and imagine a human ecology not subsumed by the economy of mass production and hyperproductivity.

Find more about Jianna Jihyun Park at