A Superfund site is not the first place one would think of to host an art installation. Yet, that is exactly where Nathan Kensinger, Laura Chipley, and Sarah Nelson Wright are staging their interactive piece, “The Newtown Creek Armada“. Located along the border of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, Newtown Creek’s water is some of the most polluted in the United States, appearing more as a mass of oily sludge than a clear liquid. Throughout the month of September, the artists will deploy nine remote-controlled boats with GoPro cameras on board, inviting the public to drive them down the stretch of muck in an effort to raise awareness and encourage restoration.
The degraded, fouled waters of Newtown Creek represent the shameful, and often ignored aspects of human settlement and urban development. In partnership with North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition (nbART) and with support from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the North Brooklyn Boat Club, artists Sarah Nelson Wright, Nathan Kensinger, and Laura Chipley have launched ambitious call for action. By steering nine miniature, remote-controlled boats crafted by the Armada’s artists, participants are urged to use the provided waterproof microphones and cameras to document their trips. The vessels themselves were built from materials reclaimed from the creek, made with everything from metal and plastic debris to bamboo and invasive plant species. “Each boat has a different kind of personality,” Nathan Kensinger told Wired magazine. “Each boat … represents a different aspect of the creek and what we discovered along the creek.”
The excursions journey deep into the tributaries of Newtown Creek, with the boats occasionally becoming entangled in the mire. While conditions along the route vary, the overall state of Newton Creek is poor. “There’s definitely a huge amount of visible pollution that’s there,” remarks Kensinger. “There’s sections of the creek where a surprising amount of nature has returned, but then other sections are really just, I would say, dead.” For the future, the Armada would like to incorporate live stream and first-person video into the boats in an effort to better monitor and record the volunteers’ experiences.
Funded with the help of a Kickstarter grant, the Brooklyn Arts Council, In Our Backyards (ioby), Macktez, and Feast Brooklyn, the Armada plans on holding tours on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of September. Those interested should visit their site for schedules and directions.