The Wonder Wheel

Coney Island and Silicon Valley

Above the turnstile for the Wonder Wheel, a hand painted sign explains that the Coney Island-based ferris wheel was completed in 1920, is 150 feet high, and weighs 200 tonnes. But the inclusion of Bethlehem Steel’s name stood out amidst the statistics. The company was one of the largest steel manufacturers and ship builders in the United States. When they filed for bankruptcy in 2001, they represented America’s shift from an industrial to a services-based economy, and exemplified the growing pressure to deliver short-term returns. The metal for the ferris wheel was forged on-site, and enclosed passenger cars move freely on the contiguous, elegant french curves of its interior track. It has run continuously every summer, except during the New York City blackout of 1977.

silicon-valley-bachman.jpg

Erlich Bachman, 10% owner of Pied Piper, from Silicon Valley. Courtesy: HBO

Erlich Bachman, 10% owner of Pied Piper, from Silicon Valley. Courtesy: HBO

In season three of Silicon Valley, a new CEO, ‘Action Jack’ Barker is hired to turn around the ne’erdowell, recently ‘incubated’ startup, Pied Piper. With an impassioned speech about the hypocrisies of the tech-industry, PP’s founder Richard Hendricks confronts Barker about the company’s shift from his original, Dropbox-like vision toward a hardware-based model. Barker explains to Hendricks that the company’s product isn’t hardware or cloud based computing, it’s stocks (read short-term returns on investments). Regardless, Pied Piper always finds (or chances upon) solutions via the absurd, self-devouring circularity of Palo Alto’s highly competitive environment.

coney_island_beach_on_memorial_day.jpg

Coney Island Beach on memorial day

Coney Island Beach on memorial day

Sealed into a Wonder Wheel car, I’m reminded that Rem Koolhaas called Coney Island ‘an incubator for Manhattan’s incipient mythology’; and I wonder to what extent the Wonder Wheel foreshadows the tech-industry’s ‘freemium’ model: promising greater connectivity, pleasure, and usability, these industries extracted the means to build our reality. The Manhattan skyline becomes visible near the top of the ride. A pity that my phone was full: no Instagram post. As the wheel descends, it seems to fling me from its imposing metalwork. The thrill’s my own – for a moment, all trust suspended.

Sam Korman is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Most Read

Ahead of Berlin Gallery Weekend, a guide to what to see across the German capital
Ahead of Art Cologne this week, a guide to the best current shows in the city
A fresh dispute over the estate of Vivian Maier; Chris Ofili is made a CBE
Theaster Gates & The Black Monks of Mississippi’s latest project for IHME Festival, Helsinki
Barkley L. Hendricks has died; the Tate faces a lawsuit from its neighbours

From Egyptian surrealism to Parisian pissoirs: what to read this weekend
On the 2017 Jamaica Biennial and its attempts to confront the role of misogyny in Jamaican popular culture
Jan Bonny and Alex Wissel’s new film project, ‘Rheingold’, sends up the ethical superiority of art making versus...
Jason Rhoades, My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage..., 2004, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, The Estate of Jason Rhoades and David Zwirner; photograph: Fredrik Nilsen
Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, USA
Ahead of Art Brussels opening this week, a guide to the best shows around town
Recently awarded a USA Artist Fellowship, Lynn Hershman Leeson speaks about cultural technologies, personal narratives...
Cosey Fanni Tutti talks to Paul Clinton about feminism, freedom and the politics of the personal
David Zwirner, New York
A guide to the best of the current and soon-to-open shows in London
The final part in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Athens, Amy Sherlock on the fourth and...
A survey of more than 50 respondents from over 30 countries

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017

frieze magazine

March 2017

frieze magazine

April 2017