FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL WE OPERATED ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE EARTH COULD BE SUBDIVIDED AND OWNED BY THE SQUARE FOOT, THAT JUST LIKE ANYTHING ELSE, SPACE COULD BE TRADED. HOW MUCH FOR WAS A QUESTION TO BE RESOLVED BY THE MYSTERIES OF THE MARKET. THE SELF-EVIDENCE OF THESE ASSUMPTIONS BORROWED FROM THE LIVED NECESSITY FOR SHELTER. ALL IT TOOK WAS A SUDDEN DOWNPOUR OF RAIN AND THE AWNING OF AN OFFICE ENTRANCE WOULD APPEAR AN ACT OF DIVINE BENEVOLENCE.
OVER TWO-THIRDS OF THE WORLD'S TANGIBLE CAPITAL WAS REAL ESTATE. THE CITY'S POPULATION WAS PREDICTED TO GROW BY TWENTY PERCENT IN THE NEXT DECADE. THE EVER-EXPANDING DEMAND FOR HOUSING GUARANTEED THE ABANDONMENT VALUE OF THE PROPERTIES AND RELATED ASSETS. WHAT WAS ONCE THE MOST TANGIBLE ASSET WAS NOW THE MOST INTERCHANGEABLE - SECURITY OR COLLATERAL
It took an entire summer for the renovations to be completed. There was a new courtyard, visible from all sides of the building from at least the first three floors. The sepia of eighties window tint made way to clear and frosted panels of glass. Tungsten bulbs were replaced by LED lamps. The desks no longer had drawers, and the seating arrangement became increasingly congregated.
He retained the studio after the divorce. In the years following, he converted it to a live-work unit that he could occasionally rent on airbnb. His mother said it was lucky they didn’t have kids. The building was once a garment factory that underwent a period of dereliction, later becoming an artist’s co-op in the early 90’s. The previous owner had been a member of the co-op, and had told them at the viewing how it fell apart as some of the artists sold their share. For a time, their small unit alone was worth close to half a million. He sometimes thought of the artists who had lived there before he did, though he could not imagine the factory.
The next morning a series of images came up in my feed. Steve’s new bike. My stepfather in thailand. A selfie of someone else I don’t recognise. A classmate’s new tattoo. The news was about as interesting, the ECB tightening restrictions on emerging markets, a series of opinion pieces about the French elections, a new study on the impacts of raw food diets
Nothing remains of the perfectly mapped textures and the exacting reflections of the architectural rendering. In the atemporal light of a cloudy day, the images that line the construction hoarding seem to now reference an imagined past more than a prospective future. One panel features cars driving on the wrong side of the road. Another contains a gleeful pedestrian with a vanishing foot. The isomorphic repetition of the plants mirrors the copy and paste images of the occupants. The indifference of the composition reminded her of Netherlandish Proverbs, though here too the idioms seemed peculiarly obscured by time.
On the monitor in the concourse a muted news broadcast glimmered. Under the image of a man in a lab coat, the subtitles read; “...of decades we will have an answer to the problem of mind-body dualism”. Catching her reflection in the glass, she wondered if she was awake. Another gust of wind turned the pages of a discarded newspaper. Perhaps all that separated the movement of the leaves and the passage of her thoughts was a degree of causal complexity. For a moment she was grateful to have lived so indeterminately
The artists fighting over rent as they achieved varying degrees of success. He imagined it was the wealthier ones who maintained the importance of keeping it a studio, while others could privately only think of how their lives would improve after selling-out.
So long as the metaphor was tethered to nature, green signified newness and beginning. Fresh shoots in spring soil. But now the association seemed lost, like a fact she had been asked to remember. An instance of recall no longer recognition. There was no difference in colour between the fallen leaves of an acer and the brown of a take-out bag. The accented colours of the dividing walls stood for nothing, like the pure tones of a chroma key.
The decoration of the concourse was by her own admission excessively corporate. Greys with small splashes of primary colours. Everything was to industry standard, from the size of the gravel stones to the width of the planters. The phoenix palm in the lobby was the maximum height of a transit van.
Gentrification followed deindustrialization. If this was meant to be post-fordism it did not look like it. Some of the pipework was still pitch fibre, and the office on the mezzanine was often brutally cold. In the evenings he continues the upcycling business they had started. “Injecting life into your property. Promoting sustainability and social design without compromising on aesthetics and quality”. It has not broke even.
During a coffee break, someone brings up the French election. Valentina starts talking about its importance for the EU. I don’t say anything. We must have read the same article. Steve suggests we start over on the spreadsheet, there are too many discrepancies he says, and it’s still early. Li Xia sends a group message; “Has anyone seen a red and yellow scarf? I think I left it in the meeting room.” I wondering if there’s an increase in recycled opinions.
In the atrium you could find seasonal bedding and bay topiary.
Perennials signified the acceptance of natural cycles. Losses in the first quarter would be made back in the second or third.
Everything rested on the perceived ability to repay. There were forms of borrowing reserved for corporate personhood that far exceeded the span of a human life.
On the wall by his desk was a poster he bought in a store in Cologne. It’s a poster of Warhol at The Factory - cliché, but he likes the metallic print. As a student he had dreamt of running a studio. Looking at the image now he notes a sense of isolation, a figure dwarfed by canvases in an abandoned urban space. Warhol had moved out when the building was demolished to make new apartments, ultimately relocating to a conventional office.
She would leave work after sunset, the streets now amber in sodium light. A group of teenagers had taken to meeting on the benches outside her apartment and she had always managed to avoid eye contact, staring down at the paving with her plastic shopping bags in hand.
Outside an array of white symbols are imprinted along the edge of the longer granite benches; they stand for “no littering, no cycling, no music, no skateboarding”. Public squares were a trade-off for expanded commercial floor space, spaces of prescribed interaction.
Valentina sent me a friend request,
I haven’t accepted yet.
“We live in factories because all the factories have moved overseas”
He remembered hearing the phrase somewhere but cannot remember where. A documentary perhaps. He thought of Warhol’s superstars. Then he thought about punk bands and then he started to think about early hip hop. When capital has no more room to expand it begins to internally re-differentiate.
The skyline from his window was an assortment of new and old developments; council blocks and terraced houses meeting with glass re-developments. Surprised by his own admission, he thinks;
“the area never had good schools anyway”
At lunch, she will buy a burrito bowl at the next door restaurant/cafe. Her order is assembled in front of her like in an advert for a watch or a car - a transparent shield revealing the workings of the assembly line where she is the foreman. The edison bulbs overhead also referred to the industrial, though in this case of an imagined past. She remembers an article which said music with shifting tempo increases customer turnaround. It is raining outside. She pays a tax of 20% to eat-in. In the eighteenth century, browsable newspapers made coffee houses loci of public debate. Around her students privately check websites and skype friends. She wondered if her white chocolate mocha wasn’t the hysterical end of an imperial past time.
On the floor is a heap of interior design magazines, some from the seventies and eighties. His favourite images are from the nineties, Lofts with large white computers like the one they used to own - it’s easier to deal with old desires than ones you still have.
The next day at lunch she buys a sandwich. She doesn’t want to pay the extra 20% so she says she will have it to take away. The barista hands her a serviette and puts away the tray
The area is busy with shoppers at lunch. She ends up walk ing nearly a mile because there is nowhere free to sit. When finally a free seat appears she is beaten to it by an older woman in a fur coat. The woman clutches several box shaped paper bags. The seats in this area are made from different kinds of stone unlike the wooden benches supplied by the council. They are not as comfortable as the ones on the terraces of the coffee shops, which you can move and adjust.
With fifteen minutes left of her break, she finally decides to eat the sandwich whilst standing. Out of boredom she glances in the shop window behind her. Inside the store nearest to the window is a mahogany coffee table, a chaise longue, and a soft blue sofa. On the table is a bowl of walnuts still in their shells and a stainless steel nutcracker. Beside the coffee table is a footstool with an aged copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Depending on how you look at it, the sofa changes shade.
It is beginning to rain, the kind of sudden rain you would expect in summer. She moves under the stone columns of a church entrance on the street across, along with other interrupted passers-by. The woman next to her is wearing the same fur coat as the woman from earlier, talking loudly on a phone. Lunch break is over.
In the morning, she would wake early. If the day was cloudy the grey of the sky seemed to seep into her apartment. Once she had finally showered and dressed, she had an apple and some green tea. All apartments above the first and second floor were reserved for market-rate units. She would always take the elevator in the mornings and walk up the stairs returning home.
Evenings were quiet, and sometimes the silence of the apartment unsettled her. After dinner she would play the radio, or read a book. Once she had finished her office emails it was practically time for bed anyway. Sometimes she would lie down and watch a wildlife documentary on her laptop though often this meant she didn’t get enough sleep.
The sky has been overcast for more than a week now. In the mornings you have to strain your eyes to make out a shadow.
She takes this as a sign of new and permanent changes in the climate.
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