Conflux Festival Hits NYC Streets this Weekend


Helmet Piece in front of Center for Architecture

Conflux New York kicked off to an interesting start with a panel on Thursday that focused on the psychogeography of rivers. Conflux is a five year-old festival of panels and outdoor performance art, in which hundreds of artists turn New York City into an urban art laboratory, will run for the rest of the weekend. The Center for Architecture is hosting the event's indoor activities. The outdoor activities include art installations, street art performances, botanical walking tours, scavenger hunts, public-transit expeditions, and solar powered Morse code workshops.

Thursday afternoon's panel, "Persuasive Ecologies", was moderated by Mark Sheppard and hosted the architects David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang (The Living) and Professor Natalie Jeremijenko (xClinic) as panelists. I knew it would be interesting, as Benjamin, Yang, and Jeremijenko all had fascinating installations up at Eyebeam's exhibit in the Spring. One of the areas they are all focusing on now is river ecology and water quality, subjects that are especially dear to my treehugging heart.

The Living has been working on a project called Riverglow. The project aims to place solar powered water quality monitors in the East River, as well as in other dirty, urban rivers, that will test PH levels, giving off light in proportion to the levels of pollution in different parts of the rivers, with the most polluted areas being lit the brightest. The idea behind the project is not to replace standard scientific water quality testing but to allow people to interact with signs of pollution that they normally can't visualize. The Living first tested the idea in a canal in Copenhagen, which with the city's waterfront revitalization proceeding apace was a natural place to try the project, as they already have red and green flags in the water to signify different water quality. In a video of the project that Benjamin and Yang showed off at the panel, the floating light in the canal looked eerily beautiful. The monitoring devices seem easy to deploy, and since the devices are solar powered, they require no outside power source. This first prototype was quick and dirty, but could be done in higher resolution to include testing for other factors like dissolved oxygen. Benjamin and Yang are hoping that other non-experts will get engaged with the project and be inspired to do similar collaborative art projects focusing on water quality.

Another monitoring project the Living is working on focuses on air quality in Seoul. In this case, the data has been collected from existing air quality monitors and is displayed on street sculptures when the viewer requests her zip code from her home computer. Both projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

Natalie Jeremijenko is the Director of X Design Environmental Clinic. She stressed that although there are crises of food and climate, there is also a crisis of agency. What should we do? The idea behind her clinic is to go beyond the goal of "first do no harm" and to get instead to the goal of actually improving one's own environment, simultaneously improving the health of those around one.

Complementing The Living's Riverglow project, Jeremijenko's river project is a river installation with buoyed lights that glow to indicate of fish presence below. The purpose of the installation is to make people aware of the aquatic life they do not normally visualize and to realize the presence of the other species that are all around us, even in polluted waters.

As a part of Jeremijenko's river project, people will also feed the fish appropriate/healthy food instead of the usual bagels and breadcrumbs. This is Jeremijenko's answer to the "Do Not Feed Animals" warnings that abound in zoos and wild animal parks, and which are ubiquitous precisely because the temptation to feed the animals is also. Jeremijenko wants instead to promote an interaction between species, because in her view, the idea of doing less and consuming less, if taken to the logical extreme would basically be to end one's life. The alternative is to focus on the positive impact one can have and work towards that.

Yang also ended his portion of the panel on a positive note. He remarked that there have recently been large protests in Korea against importing U.S. beef, which, even though it is a serious topic, involved candles, music, and performances, demonstrating that fun and beauty do not take away from the seriousness of an issue, just as the eerie beauty of the Riverglow project does not take away from its anti-pollution message.

I am eager to see how these river projects turn out. There are also many other interesting talks and events scheduled over the next two days. Check them out!

More Treehugger on Natalie Jeremijenko
Green Light
Eyebeam Feedback exhibit with Natalie Jeremijenko and The Living

Tags: Architecture | Rivers