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Vertical Farming Among Artists' Vision for Long Island City

Mary Miss's Sunswick Creek: Reflecting Forward
Mary Miss's Sunswick Creek: Reflecting Forward
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

LONG ISLAND CITY — It's been years since Long Island City was farmland, but an artist is seeing agriculture in its future.

On Sunday, Natalie Jeremijenko unveiled a structure called "Farmacy" dotted with hanging pouches that were filled with flowers and berries at Socrates Sculpture Park as a model of what could be.

Jeremijenko, who directs the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University, also taught visitors how to make their own AgBags, which allow vertical farming in urban spaces, like city windows and fire escapes, by "creating arable territory out of thin air." 

"Farmacy improves air quality, increases biodiversity, and improves environmental health in addition to producing urban edibles," she wrote about her work.

Mary Miss's Sunswick Creek: Reflecting Forward
Mary Miss's Sunswick Creek: Reflecting Forward
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

The idea is one of several offered up by local artists who are re-envisioning the area of the northern stretch of Long Island City around Vernon Boulevard, which is now home to a mix of old industrial buildings and new condos.

The exhibit, “Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City,” displays the works of Jeremijenko as well as Mary Miss, Rirkrit Tiravanija and George Trakas. The artists, all of whom have a strong record of working in the public sphere, deal with Long Island City’s development and efforts to preserve the space at the same time.

"Most common concerns for the area include how the impact of development will change this neighborhood," said Ellen Staller, Socrates Sculpture Park’s director of development and communications.

The artists also tackle the issues of "possible threats to access the green space and the waterfront area, what populated and urban areas do to the soil and the air, the environment and the water, and how are we protecting these natural resources," she added.

In 2011, in a project led by the sculpture park in collaboration with the Noguchi Museum, each artist was asked to form a team comprised of architects, urban planners, writers, historians, and other consultants to re-imagine the area in response to increasing residential development, rezoning and ecological threats.

Their findings were exhibited as models, installations and drawings at the museum. Now at the sculpture park, their ideas have taken shape through sculpture, site-specific installations, earthworks and participatory, social activities.

Trakas, known for designing Newtown Creek Nature Walk, built a deck over the bank of the East River, allowing easier access to the water.

A piece by Mary Miss, a Maryland Art Institute grad, focuses on the neighborhood’s heritage. Her work — consisting of poles with drawings and photos attached to them — stretches throughout the park to track a creek that used to run through the area. 

The Sunswick Creek, which was still visible in the late 19th Century and used for transportation purposes, has since been filled in and built over.

Rirkrit Tiravanija constructed a tent for social interaction where the community will be invited to share a meal for the purpose of community cohesion.

The exhibit is the continuation of a discussion that artists have had about the area, since two well-known sculptors — Mark di Suvero and Isamu Noguchi — moved to the neighborhood more than 25 years ago, Staller said.

Di Suvero’s studio is located just north of the Socrates Sculpture Park.

"When he moved here, it was an illegal dumping ground," Staller said.

Both sculptors galvanized the community to clean up the space and now, 25 years later, various artists are looking at the impact of new changes affecting the neighborhood.

“Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City” runs through August 5.