Filmmaker Coleen Fitzgibbon and Artist Peter Fend, being asked to think of what’s going on in Greenpoint, took a boat ride in February on one of the most polluted bodies of water in the US. This is Newtown Creek, on the border of Greenpoint and Queens—and a Superfund site. Two boats were used, one paddled by artist Patterson Beckwith with of the North Brooklyn Boat Club, and the other run with an electric motor by artist Willis Elkins, Program Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance.
Fend had met Beckwith with at the American Fine Arts Company in the 90’s, which represented Fend and his company for art/science production, Ocean Earth Development Corporation. Fend, Beckwith and Elkins had also met through Momenta Art, through shows there relating to Newtown Creek and all of NY Harbor. Work through Ocean Earth with oceans, especially in seaweed-fish cycles, started in earnest in southwest France in 1993; it continued in the UK, NZ and Germany.
Fitzgibbon, with Betsy Sussler and Chris Burden, assisted Gordon Matta-Clark with his NYC water systems in 1974-75, which covered New York’s aqueducts, steam pipes and sewage systems. Fitzgibbon met Fend in 1979 at 5 Bleecker Store’s Manifesto Show, organized by her and Jenny Holzer, an early Colab show. All three artists subsequently were co-founders of Colab, and in 1979 of The Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince & Winters. An incorporated successor to The Offices ensued, now called Ocean Earth Development Corporation. Fitzgibbon and Fend worked collaboratively through Ocean Earth in early 80’s, producing satellite surveys with NASA data for NBC, CBS, the BBC and the Cousteau Society. Ocean Earth went on to produce news coverage of Iran-Iraq, Chernobyl and Nicaragua, with UN press conferences and a commissioned report for the US Congress. Efforts continue: in 2013, Fitzgibbon made the film “Emissions,” on methane gas leaks in NYC, in conjunction with Gas Safety Inc, Damascus Citizens, and artists Ruth Hardinger and Becca Smith. As part of what could be a debate, Ocean Earth was producing methane gas from Otago Harbor and Lake Karapiro in New Zealand—thinking that, well, we could make electricity to stay clean.
Rosa Valado of the Greenpoint Film Festival suggested to Fitzgibbon that a new film could be made regarding environmental questions in Greenpoint; Fitzgibbon asked Fend to bring his broad, at-sea experience, developed with Ocean Earth stake holders in four countries. But, as this film showed, both of them were just now learning about what are the daunting problems in Newtown Creek. From its experience, Ocean Earth could propose an “organic dredging” of the contaminants with brown seaweed. But many questions must be answered.
A first reconnoiter by Fend, Beckwith with and Elkins is recorded here by Fitzgibbon, followed by a reality check(legalities..) from Sean Dixon of Riverkeeper, and a complementary ocean-site quest, just below the inlet of Newtown Creek, by two members of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. It’s learned that Greenpoint has huge potential for benefiting from its salt waters, not just in fuel production but also in removal of contaminants through growth and harvesting of marine plants.
Greenpoint 2016 is screening Sunday March 20th at 5:30pm.