The SLUDGE Project

SLUDGE uses divination and creativity to engage with learning the science and history of Newtown Creek, a toxic waterway that divides Queens and Brooklyn, NYC.

With water from the Creek and her Intuitive Research methods, artist Priscilla Stadler will create a series of paintings for an exhibition in 2023 at Local Project in Long Island City, Queens, NYC. 

The SLUDGE project also encourages public creative engagement with science to spread interest about the Creek's troubled history. For example, in 2022, ONC [The Oracle of Newtown Creek] invited the public to ask any creek-related question, and see how the Oracle answered.

Sometimes the water looks beautiful, but it's highly toxic from industrial chemicals and raw sewage.

Professor Sarah Durand tends to the bioremediating floating gardens she and her students created.

The many mussels living at the creek provide live bioremediation by absorbing toxins. So do crabs, snails, and other mollusks.

ONC [The Oracle of Newtown Creek] Appears!

ONC [The Oracle of Newtown Creek] is a participation project that invites visitors to ask any creek-related question.

During ONC's first (and so far only) appearance, at the Newtown Creek Alliance’s 2022 Tidal Toast, the most popular question (asked by 4 people) was when they will be able to swim in the creek. A related question – when the creek will be clean – was asked by 3 people. Several asked when species will return to the creek (beavers, seals, frogs, mermaids). There were a lot of other great questions, too. To see the "oracle poem" I created with some of their questions -  and the Oracle’s answers - see below.

ONC is a component of the SLUDGE project, funded in part by the Queens Council on the Arts New Work grant. Thank you QCA! And many thanks to NCA for inviting ONC into your midst. Photos by Jiaming Zhong. Beaker for Oracle answers courtesy of Dr. Sarah Durand.

These are just a few of the actual questions asked by ONC visitors:

“How many years would it take to properly clean the creek?”
“When will frogs return to the creek?”
“Are there mermaids in Newtown Creek?"
“Will I skinny dip in the creek?”
“How to fall in love by the Creek?”

You can see more questions - and the Oracle's answers - in the Oracle Poem. Here are some images of the Oracle readings.

Oracle Poem

Selected questions and answers from Oracle Readings at Newtown Creek Alliance’s Tidal Toast on 10/20/22
by Tidal Toast attendees and ONC [The Oracle of Newtown Creek]

How many years would it take to properly clean the creek?
along its banks (were) more than 50 oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards

What is the bottom of the creek like?
Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid (the same chemical reaction acidifying our oceans...from the burning of fossil fuel).

Do the tomatoes from my backyard grow larger due to the Mobil oil spill?
The early responsible parties for the majority of its contamination have since disappeared, but it has a long pollution memory.

When will the beavers come back to Newtown Creek?
1613 - Dutch settlers first survey Newtown Creek (and they) soon clash with the local Mespat tribes.

When will the seals return to Newtown Creek?
"...driving by the excavations down the street, I could smell the hydrocarbons,” he says.

When will frogs return to the creek?
Microbes of the root systems and plant's own tissues can capture or...degrade industrial toxins in a process named "phytoremediation"

What do the ribbed mussels love about the Newtown Creek Nature Walk set down?
Naphthalene is used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, fuels, and dyes.

Will I see ‘Mussel Island’ someday? What will it look like?
The locations of the various efforts are not identified at this time, as the approach will be tailored to the final monitoring network.

Are there mermaids in Newtown Creek?
1977 - N.Y Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund established.

Will there ever be regular boat service up and down the creek?
The steps brought evidence that human engineering in service of the biological would allow the return of lost communities.

Will I skinny dip in the creek?
The Superfund process includes a thorough analysis of risks to human and ecological health that can result from exposure to toxins in theCreek

Who will lead the Newtown Creek-A-Thon when Mitch Waxman moves to Pittsburgh?
The Creek's Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG)includes residents, property owners, local government, community groups, environmental groups, public health experts, business owners, and others interested in the Creek's cleanup.

Will my opera on the creek actually work?
it wasn't an oil spillexactly but a bunch of gasoline, solvents, and associated poisons bubbling up from the very ground

When will NTC be cleaned up?
Enterococcus species are indicators of raw sewage. Their concentration had a significant positive correlation with rainfall.

What is great for dinner that comes out of the Creek?
It reveals a potential for an alternative inner-city experience that could present a new understanding of our inter-relationship with water and non-human animals.

Does the Creek have host ghosts?
Naphthalene is an aromatic hydrocarbon found in coal tar or crude oil.

What made the creek such a cool place?
We will honor the many sacred places that are being threatened, desecrated and damaged today

How to fall in love by the Creek?
safe well-marked corridors and pathways create spaces forcyclists to travel throughout the area

SLUDGE Project Overview

More About the SLUDGE Project

Collaborating with students and professors from LaGuardia Community College/CUNY (City University of New York)’s environmental science and photography programs, the SLUDGE project will also feature a panel discussion about forms of engagement with the Creek, such as learning about its science, its historical use for industrial waste, and its effect on local neighborhoods.

Funded in part by the Queens Council on the Arts' New Work grant, and expanding on Stadler’s projects like Rooted that explore subterranean themes, this project investigates a different aspect of life "beneath the surface".

About Newtown Creek

A polluted waterway dividing Queens and Brooklyn, Newtown Creek runs near LaGuardia Community College. In 2010 it was designated for cleanup as a Superfund site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The pollution is not new; it began in the 19th century. The poisons it contains include industrial and other wastes such as sewage, and a major oil spill.

Despite the toxins in its water, LaGuardia’s Environmental Science students and faculty have found signs of new life such as crabs and other organisms. They have planted grasses that help clean the water, and engaged the help of bioremediators like mussels, snails and crabs.

People who live, work, or study in Long Island City, Queens or Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are especially affected by this body of water,not only for health reasons, but also because if it were clean, the creek could offer a vibrant space to enjoy our communities.

About Priscilla Stadler

Priscilla Stadler is an interdisciplinary visual artist who uses a range of media like fabric installations, ink drawings, divination, and community dialogue to investigate connections beneath the surface. These can include underground fungal networks, subconscious belief systems, and underwater realms.

She often invites the public to co-create and dialogue with her in these explorations. To learn more, read her artist's statement.


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