The first of it was shipped in from New Jersey, 500 tons of an off-white grain which is evidently in high mixture of dirt and silt, on top of which a series of cheap wooden tables serve as vending counters on which Tecate and Pabst are tendered for five dollars a can, and where an open grill continuously produces a wet, rich, cloud of beefy grease.That's an excerpt from "Some Versions of Pastoral," an essay by Zachary Sachs from At Water's Edge, the just-released first volume of a chapbook series published by the MFA Design Criticism Program at the School of Visual Arts (a.k.a. D-Crit). Edited by students Saundra Marcel and Vera Sacchetti, with faculty member Akiko Busch, the book collects essays on New York's waterfront by this year's graduating class. Zach visited Long Island City's Water Taxi Beach and found "a half-acre — perfectly rectangular — bank of sand"; other essays consider the Gowanus, Red Hook, the Staten Island Ferry, navigating the alternately shabby and glossy edges of the boroughs.
When the beach was expanded northward along the East River to accommodate more seating and an occasional volleyball court, it was supplemented with several more truckloads of sand imported from Long Beach, and the slightly paler, finer, grains now intermingle throughout, mixing freely with ashes and dirt, a briny beige-gray that finds its way on to every surface, gets caught in the occasional kick or gust and drifts over tables and folding chairs.
I'm impressed by all the students' work in and on the book, and even more excited by the potential of the series as a publishing model. Available from Lulu.com for free download or as a $10 paperback, the book, designed by Walker Design and Ryan G. Nelson, is a showcase for both the kind of writing graduate school can give you the time and skills to do, and the clever ways today's design critics have to get their words out. Seeing this book appear so quickly makes me wonder why I am spending so much time wrangling with publishers. At Water's Edge celebrates New York's raffish shores, and demonstrates a similar can-do quality itself.