I’m feeling a bit oversaturated these days, both by the incessant rain we’ve been having in the Northeastern states, and by the relentless media focus on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. If you’re interested in a long-time New Yorker’s look back at that event and its cascading effects over the past decade, look at my post from last year, “Signs in the Aftermath.” For now, I’d rather distract myself and my readers with shiny things.
I live in a city of glass and steel and plastic, colored electric lights and glittering curves and facets. The quadrangular grid is the fundamental pattern of the city, rigid, regular, and inhuman. But the grid is only the substructure for a culture of remarkable frenzy and chaos. Chaos manifests in the pure optics of grids of reflective materials, as the inevitable imperfection of flat surfaces introduces dazzling distortions. Sometimes the details of a reflected view are fragmented and repeated, something like what an insect supposedly sees with its compound eye.
There are layers of reflections, as when an object of stainless steel, with cylindrical curves, is viewed through a window, whose transparent and reflective qualities superimpose the space in front of the viewer over the space behind the viewer.
At night, metallic walls turn the various sources of light into swirling patterns like the methane turbulences of the planet Jupiter.
Or like the op-art paintings of Victor Vasarely.
Or like the tormented patterns of Arshile Gorky.
Frenetic jabs of neon and fluorescent light put a figure in an environment of cold fire.
Stainless steel facets turn architecture into abstract expressionism.
Perhaps this view of reality, faceted, multiply reflected, distorted, layered, shows a reality that the classical image, with its hard-edged clear divisions, misses. Objects are not separate, but exist only in a complex web of relationships.
A person exists only as a reflection of all that is around them.
Our love of order and regularity makes us build an environment of reflective planes. The imperfection of our planes reveals the contortions we like to think we’ve transcended.
Our grids are ragged and jagged.
The more we try to order our world, the more it asserts its unwillingness to be ordered.
The taillight of a car in the sunset becomes a scarlet thread in the steel quilt of a vendor’s cart.
A new monument near Union Square depicts Andy Warhol as the artist who reflected his surroundings, mirrorlike.
Regularity and symmetry are an illusion. The world we move in is dynamically unbalanced.
Our reality is a membrane that seems to have an inside and an outside, but those two worlds are both implicit in the membrane, and their separateness is an illusion.
An image like this exists only because of the conjunction of the car and the building reflected in its surface. Light makes them one thing.
A red printed number is on fire with orange and blue-green light.
New shiny, curvy, minimalist architecture exists visually only as a distorted reflection of old, opaque, classical, decorated architecture.
In many Asian businesses, the beckoning cat invites prosperity. This silvery one also captures the colors and light of its surroundings.
Water is also used as a decorative element in the city of glass and steel. Its light distortions are dynamic, always in motion.
Here mirror reflection, reflected light and shadow, and a sloped glass wall are framed by flat and rounded opaque geometric structures.
This combination of gridlike patterns and irregularly reflective surfaces is the visual essence of the twentieth century city.