For six days in September 2012, artists Nathan Kensinger, Sarah Nelson Wright and Laura Chipley invited people to come sail toy boats with video cameras attached through Newtown Creek, one of the most polluted bodies of water in the U.S. This small body of water between Brooklyn and Queens is a dumping ground for raw sewage and industrial waste. It’s also the site of the Digester Eggs at Newtown Creek’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, which process about 1.5 million gallons of sludge per day. Newtown Creek is often overlooked, but it’s an essential part of the city’s infrastructure, and, surprisingly, has a nature walk attached.
Working with the Newtown Creek Armada, the Hudson River Foundation, the North Brooklyn Boat Club, and the cultural affairs department of Two Trees, the artists set out to explore Newtown Creek’s ecological past and present in a project entitled “Remote Voyages”. They created the mini-boats using the creek’s flotsam, like plastic bottle caps, scrap metal and reeds. The decorative elements on the boat in the background represent the digester eggs. The boat with the oysters hanging off the sides represents the use of oyster beds as a way to clean up the creek. At the opening, Kensinger explained that this area used to be full of oyster beds, though today you certainly couldn’t consume anything that came out of the creek.
So it’s quite impressive that over the course of the six days during which the art project was open to the public, over five hundred people came out to Newtown Creek to participate. Now, at one of the galleries inside the building at 111 Front Street in DUMBO, three of the little boats project their voyages onto round porthole-like screens in front of them. There’s something beautiful about the way they ride the waves, dip under the green water, and encounter obstacles, like an old red chair floating in the water. Participatory art projects like “Remote Voyages” draw our attention towards the city’s overlooked sites and show the beauty inherent in even the most polluted areas.
The video footage captured by the mini-boats was shown at the Greenpoint Film Festival too.