Park McArthur is an artist and disability justice activist. She lives in the East Village. I met her for an interview.
In this interview excerpt, Park talks about the pleasure of navigating NYC’s sidewalks.
To know more about Park’s artwork, visit the webpage of Ramps, her second solo exhibition at Essex Street
Laurence: What is your favourite mode of transportation in the city?
Park: Being above ground in my wheelchair, just strolling around. I really love how aggressive I am able to be as a driver often. And that really allows me to exercise part of who I am that I don’t often exercise socially or verbally or affectively. That really satisfies something deep down inside of me. And this is one of the reasons I like New York a lot because I feel like I can really make glaring eye contact and insistent undeniable taking up space that in a lot of other parts of my life I feel like I don’t do that, or I feel bad about doing that. And here I just do not feel bad about doing that. Often. Sometimes I do.
That satisfies one personal relationship to myself when I am in space in the city driving fast. I also really love the kind of non-verbal communication that happens, the negotiation that happens on a sidewalk when I am going fast and other people need to get out of the way.
And I also really like finding holes in groups of people and moving around them; that’s deeply spatially satisfying to me. There’s a lot of formal movement qualities that are just flat-out pleasurable for me. Again that’s only kind of heightened in the summer time because you can be outside for so much longer. You can go a lot faster with the wind not being so biting. And then there are lots of really nice productive thoughts that happen for me when I am going, when it takes me 20 minutes to go somewhere. I mean the grid is so helpful in New York that I just autopilot. I don’t think about where I am going. I know that when I take a left I am going south, when I take a right I am going north and I will eventually get to wherever I am going quite efficiently. And to not think about that and to think about put something for art, or a feeling I am having or someone in my life. It’s weird, it allows me to not be very present which is, you know, not the best and it also probably means that I don’t pay attention to crosswalks that much. I can really go to a parallel thoughts-based or emotional place while I am moving in New York and that feels very good. I really like that.
And even when I am feeling really sad or upset that can be a very relieving activity.
Laurence: Yeah I love that. When you said you are aggressive is it in terms of speed?
Park: Speed, proximity to other people, the cutting either behind or in front or to the side of people. I mean it’s kind of ableist, really. But I really like knowing that I can fit through that hole while other people perceiving me that I can’t or that I am not as smooth a driver or as tight a driver as I am. I also just really like being really good at, you know, navigating, and being able to trust myself on that level. That’s really nice. Navigating in New York and seeing a lot of different reactions, it’s made me feel more… I guess entitled is a pretty shitty word, but it made me feel certainly more secure in the taking up of the space. I don’t feel big or monstrous. That really feels like their problem. And there are a lot of times in my life when I feel like it’s my problem, and I internalize it. Moving in space that often just really feels like their problem. Not in stores, inside. It’s like mostly outside, actually. There are plenty of times where I am like “Oh I am really sorry” or “Oh gosh, I…” you know. I’ll articulate it verbally very differently but inside I feel like “yeah, okay, get out of the way, you need to do that.”
Laurence: When you move fast people cannot really stop and talk to you.
Park: Oh yeah! True.
Laurence: I was thinking about that too. The possibility of moving fast is great in some ways because I don’t have all those ableist… well, sometimes people will just shout like “Do you have your driver license?” and stuff like that. But most of times, they just don’t have time to talk to me.
Park: Yeah, that is really nice, I agree. Yeah! Right it does that thing of like “All right yeah no, don’t talk to me!” That’s a good point for sure.