Newtown Creek Armada Project and the Black Mayonnaise

Foreword & photographs by Kerosene Rose. Interview by Sean Alday.

Like many people, I have loved boats and all things water-related since I was a child. Last year in Portland, Oregon, I got a job at the waterfront science museum, excited that they have a submarine. On my first lunch break, I stopped by and was shocked that the submarine didn’t have windows. The sub staff said with a laugh, ‘You don’t want to see what’s down there’ as the river is so polluted only the drunk would dare swim in it. To me, the pollution only increased interest to see what’s below the sparkly surface. Disheartened, I never returned to the submarine.

When I heard about The Newtown Creek Armada Project, the child in me was jumping with joy. Three gorgeous remote-controlled boats with GoCams that video record the water promises fun and beautiful footage, not to mention the eco-sense of having this project in Newtown Creek, in Greenpoint – one of America’s most polluted waterways to raise eco-awareness. Art, fun and learning; what could be better?

The Newtown Creek Armada is cleverly actualized by three Brooklyn artists, Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright and commissioned by nbART (North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition), an open call seeking environmentally and sustainability-conscious art installations.

Needless to say, I was excited to meet up with Sarah Nelson Wright at Brooklyn Fireproof with writer Sean Alday to learn more about The Newtown Creek Armada. While the full project will be launched this September, we suggest you stop by and see the progress and the process this weekend at Bushwick Open Studios.

Locations & Dislocation by Sarah Nelson Wright

Sean: Tell me about yourself.
SNW: I’m from the Bay Area in California. I’d been to New York a few times before moving here to work on an MFA in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter. It took a while before I began thinking of myself as an artist. I worked with a non-profit and expected to do that.

From that I began doing socially-engaged media art. I had a studio in Greenpoint and have lived in the same apartment for the last nine years.

ATTACHMENT, by Sarah Nelson Wright & Nathaniel Lieb

Sean: What made you move your studio to Bushwick?
SNW: We were interested in the creative atmosphere in Bushwick. Part of it was being able to participate in Bushwick Open Studios. The area has been inspirational and interesting. This location, being so close to the Newtown Creek makes it so that we can walk a few blocks to do work on the Newtown Creek Armada project.

Sean: Sorry to interrupt, but aside from research, what do you do there?
SNW: I put on my haz-mat suit first and I have gathered and disinfected things along the creek bed and decorated the boats with the material. At the bottom there’s something known as “Black Mayonnaise” which is the sludge from the barges and ships that come into the creek. It’s an operational creek for shipping. I’ve scouted locations for the boat launch later this year.

ATTACHMENT, by Sarah Nelson Wright & Nathaniel Lieb

Sean: What do you plan on doing for BOS?
SNW: I walked all over Brooklyn Fireproof last year and got to know people that have been working nearby for a while. It’s a great chance to see people’s work and their studios. A lot of the time it seems that you see people in passing and you don’t know what’s going in their studio. For example, in our studio, you come in and see a lot of desks. The question that people must be asking themselves is ‘Are these people artists?’

We are going to be showing the Armada though. Which is great because it’s a tangible object of what we do. I’ll be showing some examples of the interactive sculptures I’ve done in the past. Some work with Nathaniel Lieb.

Sean: Were you open last year?
SNW: Yes. I met tons of new people and saw a lot of interesting artwork. I was also able to visit a few other buildings too. I have a friend [Nathaniel Lieb] in 56 Bogart and went to see his studio and visit other studios there.”

Sean: Any favorite hangout spots in the neighborhood?
SNW: I like to eat at the tortilla factory for lunch. That’s always fun. The bar downstairs has a great happy hour. It’s nice to invite people over for a studio visit and then take them to the bar.