What kind of wilderness is the Newtown Creek, and how to make work about it? A Superfund site, a public place, an active place, a deeply damaged place, a disaster… With what tools and what language should I work? How to do so without aestheticizing this damage, without generating more “disaster porn” the type with which we have already grown too familiar? Without glossing, either, the fact that this Creek is both a public health menace, and a livelihood for human and non-human actors alike, it is vital, inhabited, and used. What are the aesthetic challenges and responsibilities in making visual work about such complex and contradictory post-natural sites?
“I will build a small boat in the studio to ply the banks of the Newtown Creek. The boat will become a floating studio. A platform for investigation, public talks, picnics, field trips, and embodied research. We will expose our bodies to this ecology, study its industrial past, its toxicity, its post-natural present as urban wilderness, and its multiple futures.”
I compose a weekly “letter” from interviews, soil and water samples, and drawings from memory of the Creek’s bisecting stretches, streets, and kills. This letter became a hybrid video/website (What Wilderness: 9 Conversations on Ecology, Abstraction, and the Anthropocene) that resists its own aestheticizing desire. The small boat is fitted out with sampling and recording devices, including an underwater LIDAR imager, and a small radio transmitter to stream data and audio back to shore. Each day at 7 am, I invite someone to accompany me on the water, to talk about ecology in relation to their work – on nature, abstraction, community, the idea of wilderness, the literature of ecological crisis – here, on a site of ecological crisis, which in turn stands in for the broader crisis we are currently living.
See also: What Is This Hidden Wilderness (2015)
Mary Walling Blackburn, Una Chaudhuri, Willis Elkins, Sam Gould, Ellie Irons, Christopher Kennedy, Sto Len, Maureen McLane, Aviva Rahmani, Mark Read, Brie Ruais and Marina Zurkow.
The punt itself, along with an accompanying website/video piece documenting the conversations was presented in the exhibition Aqueous Earth.
C-prints and recorded audio were show in-studio during ISCP’s Open Studios Weekend in November, 2015.
Press: Hyperallergic, Jillian Steinhauer: “Artistic Encounters with our Toxic Waterways”