The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT is an artist-initiated project that integrates the intersection of art and science with the speculations and promise of creating societal change in a site-specific area. The project takes its name from a tributary of Newtown Creek, a waterway located in Brooklyn, New York that was designated a federal Superfund site in 2009. Obscure and mysterious, English Kills is the source of Newtown Creek and happens to be the most polluted portion of waterway. Among the challenges that arise during the realization of this project are: developing an ethical, scientific framework; a desire to activate over issues of environmental justice and for community voices to be heard; attempting to work cooperatively along-side governmental entities and neighborhood organizations; and to employ art and design to re-imagine a new reality for this polluted creek. By taking a socially engaged approach to bio-art that brings community and ideas together, the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT (EKP) attempts to find new methods to bio-remediate an obscure, mysterious and historically polluted waterway.
I founded the EKP in 2010. Since then I have actively collaborated with the biologist Dr. Sarah Durand, CUNY of La Guardia College and community groups such as the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) and neighborhood residents to bring alternative bio-remediation processes to clean the water quality of the creek and create a greater awareness about nature in an urban environment.
Sewage outflows and street runoff to Newtown Creek and English Kills are the primary source for the pollution in its current ecosystem. Our urban life, an over abundance of NYC’s waste transfer sites and an ancient sewage system contribute to the contamination of English Kills. English Kills has one of the largest combined sewage outflows (CSO) along Newtown Creek.
The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT envisions the introduction of viable and living inter-tidal zones along the perpendicular and hardened bulkhead shorelines. Filter-feeding organisms can act as kidneys to filter and clean the water while providing new habitats for the current wildlife of marine and endangered avian species. This project has adopted practices from Dr. Durand’s field tests in the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There, with the help of the NCA, she installed fabricated habitats of clean soil, cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and ribbed mussels (Guekensia demissa), native to Newtown Creek, along the Dutch Kills bulkheads. English Kills’ bulkheads and waterway also hold great potential for introducing these experiments with bivalve organisms. New habitats and wetlands can clean the sewage outflow, toxic elements, human bacteria and petroleum waste that comes into the English Kills area and into the rest of Newtown Creek. Man-made wetlands can create a more sustainable and cleaner habitat for the current wildlife that already exists in the toxic environment.
Recently the EKP installed the first man-made habitat in English Kills to test the viability of mussels in the polluted field conditions. Man-made habitats consist of a fabricated frame (polythylene/marine board: a non leaching plastic) supporting a container with ribbed mussels and spartina. A 4-gallon container is perforated to allow water to flow through the habitat and is lined with a geo-textile (employed in bio and soil remediation projects) to prevent soil erosion. Sand and clean sediment fill the bucket for spartina roots to mature and allow the mussels to burrow. Habitats are secured to the dilapidated supports of an old swing bridge in English Kills. Video recorded from School of Visual Arts’ Bio-Art Lab and data collected from Dr. Durand’s laboratory demonstrate the effectiveness of this method and how the quality and clarity of the creek water improved dramatically when filter-feeding bivalves were introduced to brackish and translucent water. The results of this mussel viability experiment in the English Kills basin will come in the late winter and early spring.
In the meantime the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT is working with local residents and new partners to design a new series of mussel habitats in the basin. By using the art of design, forms made from marine board to contain filter-feeding organisms, the EKP aspires to have residents gain a sense of authorship and ownership in this endeavor. Imagine a waterway populated by individually designed and crafted mussel habitats for residents to associate themselves with solving the problem of a polluted waterway.
The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT also initiated “What Do You Want to See In English Kills?" This year through a series of events, workshops and D.I.Y. planning sessions, the EKP asks the local residents of East Williamsburg and Bushwick to re-imagine English Kills and Newtown Creek. How would community members design inter-tidal zone wetlands, create islands of mussels, plan an open space or launch the first public access point to this public waterway? Citizen planners are asked to consider principles of bio-remediation in their individual designs.
The EKP seeks a dialog with citizens that live and work around the Creek to establish a determining voice in remediating this Superfund waterway. Thus far the Newtown Creek Superfund advisory process does not have participation nor input from the communities of Bushwick and East Williamsburg. The EKP affects to change this relationship. Issues of environmental justice arise when people have a chance to see, talk and make art about the problems for themselves. Art making can serve to channel resident’s concern to the site, to allow a re-engagement to their rights and provide a sense ofand attract attention the eyes and ears of those who hold the reins of power.
My project aspires for all communities to see and share a water-scape experience, to understand its problems and its possible future. Public access to a public commons can allow for re-imaginations of the waterway and move people to action, recreation and contemplation. This can have an impact on the local environment, ecology, personal change and public re-awakenings on our inter-relationship with nature and community.
ENGLISH KILLS: Is an exploration and an investigation of the southern most part of Newtown Creek. It is the potential site for an alternative remediation project.
ENGLISH KILLS: It is Newtown Creek’s “heart of darkness.” It is the most polluted, most toxic part of the most contaminated waterway on the east coast of the United States.
ENGLISH KILLS: Is a re-imagining of a waterscape of desecration transforming to one on the precipice of re-awakening.
ENGLISH KILLS: It is the site of environmental, historic and ecological desecration.
ENGLISH KILLS: Is a potential site for personal and spiritual resurrection and redemption.
ENGLISH KILLS: It is the transformation of a place from environmental discrimination to environmental justice.
ENGLISH KILLS: Is about SENSES, THOUGHT, IMAGINATION and AFFILIATION.
ENGLISH KILLS: It is the site of change. “Change”
ENGLISH KILLS is my Brooklyn based art and bio-remediation project. It is also my re-imagination of a site of historic desecration that is on the verge of an ecological reawakening.
English Kills is its “heart of darkness” and the location to explore and develop an inter-relationship with a mysterious waterway. The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT exists both “internally” and “externally” as the embodiment of a new awareness of a water-based frontier. It is speculative bio-experiment and a socially engaged art project. ENGLISH KILLS is my personal site for myth-making to experience an imaginative departure from an urban life into a waterscape of a presumably dead, yet still living estuary.