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Cruising the Queer Ruins of New York’s Abandoned Waterfront

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Fiona Anderson



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


In late 1970s New York, prior to the advent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, artists and writers including David Wojnarowicz, Alvin Baltrop, Peter Hujar, and John Rechy walked the piers of the city's derelict waterfront in search of anonymous sex with the myriad men who cruised there. The buildings became props in the sexual encounters that took place there. The derelict landscape of the harbour and Wojnarowicz's erotic reaction to the forms of the warehouses themselves shaped his poetic ideas of non-linear, achronological ‘cruising time’ and architectural memory. In this article, I explore cruising in the ruins of the abandoned Lower West Side waterfront in the immediate pre-AIDS period, examining these artists’ sense of the queer temporality of the piers, where images of past and present raced ‘back and forth’ incoherently. I explore the visual culture of the waterfront and its cruising scene using, primarily, photographs, and other artworks and writings by Wojnarowicz and others as my guide, following their interest in the erotic appeal of ruins and the ‘traces of time embedded’ in these derelict buildings. I explore how the ruins of the piers, seen now through photographs and in archival materials, function presently as a means of figuring the early years of HIV/AIDS in New York and its pre-history through a rhetoric different from that of degeneration. By turning to the treatment of this ruined place in waterfront work from the pre-AIDS era, placing the past and present of the piers and the queer lives that they hosted in a non-linear open-ended dialogue with each other, I argue that we may escape the unexpectedly homophobic causality that contemporary ‘ruin lust’ and the idea of this late-1970s moment as a ‘last days of Rome’ both seem to point to.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Anderson F

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Performance Research

Year: 2015

Volume: 20

Issue: 3

Pages: 135-144

Print publication date: 01/05/2015

Online publication date: 23/06/2015

Acceptance date: 30/04/2015

Date deposited: 23/09/2015

ISSN (print): 1352-8165

ISSN (electronic): 1469-9990

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2015.1049047


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