© 2020 Sue Jeong Ka
BluMarble, Against Progress, 2015
Commissioned by Jamaica Flux/Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Queens, NY
Curated by Hang-Gil Han and
Excerpt from Tammy Kim's essay in the Jamaica Flux catalog:
Ka’s new project for Jamaica Flux, BluMarble, takes on gentrification in the context of failed capital, or, more specifically, a series of ill-conceived hotels in eastern Queens. In recent years, zoning changes and hyper-gentrification have allowed Chinese and Indian real-estate developers to build shiny, mid-rise hotels in low-rise, working-class areas of the borough, near JFK Airport and the National Tennis Center. Yet the hotels remain vacant, their lodgers having never arrived. And so some owners have signed contracts with the city’s Department of Homeless Services, taking in unsheltered New Yorkers for a fee per person per night. This, neighbors protest, is not the kind of “development” the hoteliers promised. But would Jamaica’s longtime residents be as troubled by enthusiastic, moneyed tourists?
BluMarble refers to how the Earth appears from space as well as a Korean knock-off of the real-estate board game “Monopoly.” It also names a luxurious material, the kind of surface imitated in so many hotel lobbies and motel bathrooms. Ka’s intervention in Jamaica is similarly multi-dimensional. She plays with construction-permit signs, converting a “Work in Progress: Commercial” notice into one that reads, “Against Progress: Residential,” signed by neighborhood activists opposing the proposed Waltham Hotel.
In a more elliptical video, Ka toggles between Google Maps, exterior shots of Jamaica’s new, silvery edifices and footage from inside the hotels: pristine white bedspreads, a maid vacuuming an empty hallway, lobbies devoid of traffic. We follow the lead of Ka’s cursor, as in a video game, zooming in and out, right and left. We’re among the first visitors, it seems.
E. Tammy Kim is a writer and member of the editorial staff at The New Yorker. She previously worked as a staff writer for Al Jazeera America and as a social justice lawyer.