Floater! Artists will put cameras on boats in the Newtown Creek

Greenpoint spill 3 times larger than the Exxon Valdez!
Oily sheen on the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.
Office of the Attorney General

Don’t be alarmed by floating objects in Newtown Creek — they might be art.

Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright will launch several radio-controlled miniature boats onto Newtown Creek next spring, recording video of underwater life in the city’s most-polluted waterway.

The project, named the Newtown Creek Armada, won the North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition’s design competition this year for its proposal to document conditions on the river as the federal government begins its multi-million-dollar Superfund cleanup.

“People haven’t had a chance to interact with the creek because it is toxic,” said Coalition founder Katie Denny. “This allows them to interact with the water.”

Artists and volunters will be able to pilot the remote-controlled vessels along the surface of the murky creek from the Newtown Creek Nature Walk during a five-week period next May.

Each device, about the size of a football, will have lights and underwater cameras attached to its base that will send a wireless feed to a video monitor in real time. Footage from the fleet’s voyages will be archived for future showings in — where else? — a gallery.

But the challenge will be to capture clear images in a fetid corpse of water that includes sediment, oil from a massive underground spill, garbage and human excrement, which pours into the waterway during heavy rainfall.

Bottom’s up: Artists Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright are collaborating on a new project to record video of underwater life in Newtown Creek.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

The Brooklyn-based Urban Divers recently filmed underwater scenes in Newtown Creek, but the result was a “gray-green blur.”

“I don’t think [the artists] going to be able to see much,” said Greenpoint resident Laura Hofmann, who saw the Urban Divers’ video. “I hope I’m wrong.”

Denny believes that the lights will illuminate the water, and that the cameras will record clearer images during sunny days.

“Hopefully we see what is actually down there to educate people about the Greenpoint oil spill,” said Denny. “But I hope we don’t come across anything terrifying — especially if we bring school kids there.”

That’s a class trip for which permission slips will definitely be required.

For information, visit www.nbart.org

Find reporter Aaron Short at [email protected].

Guests will be able to observe video from cameras on monitors along the Newtown Creek Nature Walk.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short