Throughout the exhibition there are models of structures which aid in the distribution of electrical, telephone, water, waste, and heat services. The prototypes of these phone poles, pump houses, switching stations and the like are found in an almost infinite variety of form, each one as mysterious, authoritative, and easily ignored as the next. Electricity is collected in and distributed from substations hidden in bleak, disused corners of neighborhoods, the edges of public lands, poor and industrial sections of cities, and generally anywhere outside the field of view of consumers.
Elaborate curtains are erected on modern buildings to hide their obtrusive water tanks (the entire eight story high wedge of the Citicorp building in Manhattan is a hollow space provided for nothing more than an enormous water tank and air conditioning evaporator, and one small satellite dish maintained by the FBI). Increasingly, electrical power and telephone cables are being relocated underground although space through utility conduits is at more of a premium than in the warehouses of Chelsea.
The only part of this system which might draw attention to itself is the network of "NYC Water Inspection" boxes which appeared unceremoniously on the city's sidewalks in the last year. These silver cast iron units are in size somewhere between a phone booth and one of the ill-fated fire alarm boxes (both of these last two are increasingly rare in poor neighborhoods). These very substantial objects took their places as permanent structures on the streets without calling attention to themselves in spite of their mysterious function. Presumably, they have been installed to enable the testing of water quickly and easily in the event of outbreaks of E. Coli or rash acts of terrorism against the reservoirs. Yet these big boxes make themselves overlooked because of their "municipal" form. The authority they project makes them not only accepted, but also not questioned. Similarly in the exhibition, the model's retention of the generic forms of their prototypes prevents, at the last moment, the possibility of accessing their meaning.
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