The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

calmly gazing

with 2 comments

Wrapping up the 400 Kingsland Avenue posts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, Kate Zidar of Newtown Creek Alliance and Kevin Thompson of ExxonMobil created an opportunity for artist Jan Mun (pictured above) and her collaborator Jason Sinopoli to work on an installation at the 400 Kingsland Avenue ExxonMobil property in Greenpoint that would demonstrate the efficacy and possibilities of mycoremediation- the usage of oil eating mushrooms as a bioremediator on contaminated sites. The project took the form of earth work “fairy rings,” a play on European mythology, which would act as a platform for the fungus. I was there to photographically document the project, which played out over the summer of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The earthworks were arranged around defunct well heads, and hosted two specie of mushrooms. A growth medium of “inoculated” hay stuffed into burlap bags hosted one specie, while the other fungal family was installed directly into the soil. Jan Mun was building on the concepts and work of a fellow named Paul Stamets, who is a leading authority on the subject. The mushrooms took root, as it were, and by late August and early September, we began to see the literal fruit of Jan Mun’s efforts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The mushrooms began to fruit, as they absorbed nutrients from the soil. Interestingly enough, the bags of fungus also began to host a colony of what the kids in my old neighborhood would have referred to as “curly bugs.” That’s the sort of critter which curls up into a ball when you poke them with a stick, which I believe those outside of Canarsie refer to as “Potato Bugs.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fungi weren’t the only thing that grew here in the summer of 2013. The NCA and ExxonMobil folks began to form a working relationship and friendship, an organic and unplanned consequence of close contact. Your humble narrator, in particular, found a friend in the site manager of the property- Vito- who is also a bit of a history buff. He exhibited some of the artifacts which his crew had dug out of the ground over the years, leave behinds from the long tenancy which the Standard Oil Company of New York enjoyed at this location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The vernal project concluded, for me at least, with Jan Mun presenting the work to the team of engineers who labor at the site during a “toolbox talk.” Some of these folks worked directly for ExxonMobil, others for the larger company’s subcontractor Roux. The workers here are the men and women who are directly laboring on the remediation and cleanup of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. We shared a meal with them, and then went out to Jan’s work area to discuss the project and the concept of using fungus organisms in the pursuit of our shared organizational goals- achieving a restored and revitalized Newtown Creek environment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli continue to care for and work on their garden, here at 400 Kingsland Avenue. My documentation of the project is over for now, and I have returned to my solitary wanderings through the concrete devastations. The darkest of the hillside thickets awaits, and I turn away from this brightly lit and illimitable corridor found along the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

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

2 Responses

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  1. I am assuming the mushrooms remove toxins from the soil and air? That is pretty awesome! 🙂


    October 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    • That’s the idea. Paul Stamets, from whom Jan Mun gathered inspiration and technical know how, has proven the concept scientifically. The fairy rings, however, is not following an empirical model (control group, before and after soil testing etc.) and is an “art installation” meant to pique the imagination about what might be possible on the Creek using a softer approach to environmental issues therein.

      Mitch Waxman

      October 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm

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