Oysters in Focus

Narrowing down my sub-topic proved difficult; I wasn’t sure of the type of trade that I wanted to map. Originally I had wanted to trace the routes of two or three different types of merchandise unloaded from Manhattan’s docks, but when I was trying to decide what type of merchandise to trace, I stumbled across various histories of New York’s oyster trade – and what a bustling trade it was! Everything about the oyster seemed to fit into the metaphorical and symbolic backdrop of my project on the waterfront: there were many connections that corresponded to the overarching theme. For instance, the asymmetrical anatomy of the oyster as defined by its valve-controlled edge resembles the interior/exterior, fluid/solid, land/water relationships in my project. The oyster was a sort of microcosmic object encompassing the acts of acquisition and consumption present in the expansions of Manhattan’s coastline.

The architecture of the oyster barge also confirmed the quality of inbetween-ness inherent in the state of being just on the edge – neither here nor there. Most oyster barge hulls were designed to resemble the then-present style of businesses and homes; both land and maritime technologies were used in the construction of the oyster barge. The hulls featured ornate carvings, colorful exteriors, intricate scroll-work and faux balconies; it would seem as if the barges were closer to showboats than to commercial barges. Often the barges were permanent fixtures on the waterfront’s landscape, given a number that resembled an address, instilling a sense of durability and cohesion amidst the rapid rhythms of the shore.

1 Comment

  • What a fantastic strategy for delimiting your focus: finding an object that encompasses all the tensions that you find most interesting! We might even characterize the oyster as a “medium,” in that it negotiates between all these disparate conditions — inside/out, fluid/solid, land/water, etc.