Directions to a Gravel Quarry

Daisy Atterbury

Having been situated already at the site of extraction, the quarry, thanks to Shadi Harouni’s single channel video, The Lightest of the Stones(2015), we can operate at the intersection of art and use. These categories don’t really make poles. I’m following Lucy Lippard’s injunction to abandon the word “landscape” for “land use,” sitting in a dark corner observing dialogue exchanged by a cluster of men in front of a black mountain pumice quarry in Iranian Kurdistan, the site of a labor now profitless because of trade sanctions against Iran.

“It’s like this place was once boiling” (The Lightest of the Stones, 2015).

The oldest bedrock exposed in the New York City area is Fordham Gneiss, a billion-year-old deformed sequence of metasedimentary, metavolcanic, and metaplutonic rock that is exposed in the Bronx, with portions existing beneath the Cretaceous and overlying glacial sediment of Queens and Brooklyn, extending into the subsurface of Manhattan. The rock consists primarily of quartz, feldspar, mica(s), amphiboles, pyroxene, and garnet, usually with “accessory minerals” kyanite, sillimanite, epidote, and magnetite.

We know we’re interested in description, that writing can describe the world and remind us of where we are as a species, as bodies, capacities, and subjectivities. We know we’re interested in how observation is also fantasy and documentation is also imagination. In producing these objects, texts, experiences, we can imagine and demarcate other possibilities, impossible realities, and different kinds of permissible violence: like the violence of narration, of constructing alternative personal and cultural histories.

Directions to a gravel quarry: Take the George Washington Bridge to the Cross Bronx Expressway. Follow the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Whitestone Bridge. You will then be on the Whitestone Expressway. Take the Whitestone Expressway to Exit 14 (Linden Boulevard). Stay on the service road and go through three lights until the end. Then make a left onto College Point Boulevard. The terminal is a quarter-mile down the road on the right (before Best Concrete).

What if it becomes important to see “slow” and/or “death” as essential nonce taxonomies invested with strains of irrational, uncanny, disloyal, even cruel resistance to hegemonic notions of wealth and prosperity—as decidedly unheroic, but essential? If we do away with investments in fit-ness, longevity, and citizenship as a priori?

“There was a time this place was all molten iron” (Stones, 2015).

The word “todt” is a variant of the Dutch word for death, thought to refer to Todt Hill’s history as a burial ground and site of colonial violence against indigenous inhabitants by Dutch settlers. (The residue of violence restricts itself to a line of notation on signage posted at Sports Park, Toad Hall Playground, by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.) The first instances of iron mining in the New York City area have been traced back to the excavation of iron ore from the decomposition of serpentine rock on Todt Hill, Staten Island, in 1644.

“It could be extracted with relative ease” (Signage, Sports Park, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as part of the Historical Signs Project).

In her center room installation, Barb Smith displays “the things we keep” (Memory of a tiptoe…, Mixed media installation, 2016), “granite dust from a monument making shop in Queens, fine bone china rims, when all the color goes away, rubber cast of how to move in 1939.” Hardened—our word—object, memory foam soaked in resin in which her bodily form is impressed. “Chunk glass”; “sinking pewter.” These excavations aren’t without their languages, traumas, histories.


A tradition since 2001, Queens International is the Museum’s biennial exhibition of artists living or working in Queens. While each iteration has had its own curatorial team and vision, what remains constant is the central aim of highlighting and contextualizing the artistic vibrancy of the borough through contemporary cultural productions in all media.

Queens International 2016 characteristically looks to the idea of thresholds, and the way spaces for transition, contact, and exchange become markers for the complex forces that shape contemporary life. Many of the 34 participating artists, collectives, and partner organizations use performance-based and site-specific approaches to incorporate the museum’s architectural and historical context and engage the diverse body of the museum audience. Ongoing projects in Queens International 2016 include experimental and often participatory events, genre-bending musical concerts, and international collaborations between Queens artists and their global counterparts. The politics of borders and border-crossing are expanded through the exhibition and public programs to include not only the discourse of physical territory and migration, but also the act of transgressing between artistic disciplines, linguistic or ideological divides, digital and human interfaces, and prescriptive narratives of the past, present, and future.

References and source materials used by the artists zoom in and out of visibility from local to global, from micro to macro, and from private to public: the dominance of Western advertising in post-conflict Beirut; the international ubiquity of Mariachi bands; hyper-development in the New York City real estate market; the not-so-anonymous crowdsourced Internet marketplace; the reassessment of the body or embodiment in contemporary life; and the remixing of artistic identity with a local Jazz legend. Queens International 2016 navigates these shifts between assumed binaries and examines the ways in which systems regulate our bodies and environments.

Responding to the increasingly intertwined relationship of printed and digital media today, Queens International 2016 features a contemporary model of publishing and distribution that develops into its maturity through post-opening contributions, generated by participating artists’ interactions among themselves and with external responders. An evolving web platform will produce a print-on-demand publication that will incorporate content authored over the course of the exhibition. The website–serving as a living hub for documentation, artist interviews, short-form writing, and commentary from wide-ranging responders–in turn comprises a publication that can either be printed on-site at the exhibition via a risograph printer, or accessed as a downloadable PDF. In line with the character of Queens International 2016, the risograph method allows the publication to sit somewhere between a handmade screenprint and Xerox copy, giving digitally formatted content a uniquely physical property.

©2016 Queens Museum

Design and development by Ayham Ghraowi and Brandon Gamm