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Sludgie the whale returns to Gowanus — kinda

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It is a whale of an exhibition. Literally.

“Sludgie,” the ill-fated baby whale that famously meandered into the Gowanus Canal in April 2007 and died after hitting some submerged rocks, is returning to Brooklyn. Or at least part of it is — two artists have designed an educational exhibit featuring Sludgie’s massive skull, which will be displayed at the upcoming TEDxGowanus conference at event space 501 Union on Jan. 26.

“This is a gesture toward the whale in the sense that the whale dying in the canal was a tragedy,” said co-designer Sasha Chavchavadze.

Chavchavadze, who is also the co-founder of the art and reading gallery Gowanus Proteus, worked with fellow artist Christina Kelly to create a massive broadside featuring newspapers that tell tales of animals and people falling into, or becoming otherwise ensnared by, the centuries-old canal. The installation will also boast cards attached to helium balloons that list flora and fauna that have disappeared or returned to the canal over the years — and of course, the massive cetacean cranium itself.

“There have been many tragedies — some more humorous, some sadder,” Chavchavadze said, also noting the death of the dolphin that swam into the canal in January last year and died after only one day in the fetid waterway. “This will show how the canal has been the site of multiple issues, almost from the time it was constructed.”

The artist said she was approached by the organizers of TEDxGowanus — a spin-off from the popular TED conference series, which puts on global conferences with talks on topics such as “The $80 prosthetic knee that’s changing lives” and “The astounding athletic power of quadcopters” — to construct an interactive installation featuring the famed aquatic mammal for the one-day event. The conference will also highlight some 20 speakers, including writer Joseph Alexiou, who is penning a book about the canal, and Rachel Fershleiser, the literary and nonprofit outreach guru for blogging platform Tumblr.

The conference creators said they are looking forward to bringing Sludgie back from the dead.

“I think the exhibit will do a bunch of great things — it will tell the story of what happened to Sludgie after she died, educate people on whale anatomy, and also revitalize awareness of the intersection between our urban environment and natural environment,” said TEDxGowanus organizer Sean Gannet.

After the conference is done, Sludgie’s skull will float around Gowanus for awhile longer, on display at Proteus Gowanus’s mini-museum, Hall of the Gowanus, until March.

See Sludgie’s skull at 501 Union [501 Union St. between Nevins and Bond streets in Gowanus, (347) 529–6486, www.tedxgowanus.com]. Jan. 26 from 11 am.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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