The Newtown Pentacle

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More on how I spent part of the summer of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As discussed in yesterday’s post, Newtown Creek Alliance’s Artist in Residence- Jan Mun- proposed an art installation centered around the concept of mycoremediation (hydrocarbon eating mushrooms) and the mythology surrounding “fairy rings.” The project intrigued Newtown Creek Alliance, whose directors reached out to the ExxonMobil folks who oversee the remediation of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. ExxonMobil graciously invited Jan and NCA onto their property at 400 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint (and supplied budgetary support for grounds shaping as well as mushrooms) and I was asked to document the project. This week’s posts all emanate from the venture, and feature shots from “behind the wall.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representative Kevin C. Thompson was with us every step of the way, here he is helping Jan Mun sketch out the outlines of the fairy rings which formed concentric circles around inactive well heads. One thing which I can definitively say about the experience is that it was hotter than blazes just about every Tuesday this summer, which was our designated work day, and it would be an understatement to say that the site requirements for long sleeves and gloves was a cumbersome but ultimately necessary burden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even though we were working on something “soft,” an art project ultimately, the 400 Kingsland property is an active industrial site full of machines and busy engineers. The safety training we were asked to attend at the start of things informed us to the hazards of the site as well as the mores and conventions of such places. This is pretty standard stuff for industrial areas, as it is extremely easy to get extremely hurt in such places.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Jason Sinopoli, Jan’s collaborator and partner on the project, walking out of one of the sketched out fairy rings. ExxonMobil uses a landscaping contractor to maintain the grounds here, and Mr. Thompson arranged for them to come in with a bobcat and crew to install and shape the soil to Jan and Jason’s wishes. The contractor came and went, and they left behind spiral mounds for the two J’s to work with.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan Jan laid out for all was to use two forms of mushrooms in the rings, one which would interact directly with the soil and another which would spawn within bags of “inoculated” hay. By inoculated, she means boiled and sprayed with alcohol to kill off any other fungal organism which might already be on the hay. This process was accomplished at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch over on Skillman Avenue in Queens, which is run by Gil Lopez – another of our Newtown Creek Alliance chums.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hay, along with heaps of mushroom spores, was loaded into burlap sacks and placed atop the earthworks. The bags would require regular watering, and to be covered by tarps to protect it from the effects of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. Fingers crossed, we would leave the ExxonMobil property one Tuesday, then come back the next to see what weird sort of life might be sprouting there.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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