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Floating Art Exhibit to Drop Anchor in Toxic Gowanus Canal

By Leslie Albrecht | November 4, 2013 7:24am | Updated on November 4, 2013 8:44am
 Harvest Dome will be anchored for six months in the polluted Gowanus Canal.
Harvest Dome to Float to Gowanus
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GOWANUS — A floating orb made of 450 discarded umbrellas will soon set sail for the Gowanus Canal and spend the next six months anchored in the toxic waterway.

Harvest Dome 2.0 will show viewers that the notoriously filthy canal is poised for renewal, said architect Amanda Schachter, who designed the "performance architecture" piece with her colleague Alexander Levi of SLO Architecture.

"Sometimes the water feels very still and like it's not moving," Schachter said. "When you see this dome, it will bring the Gowanus alive — you'll know that something is happening. It [will] make the place vibrate."

The first Harvest Dome met an untimely end when it washed ashore at Rikers Island in 2011. Harvest Dome 2.0 docked in a salt marsh in Inwood Hill Park this past August, and in September, the piece was put on display on land at the Governors Island Art Fair.

Later this month, when the tide is right, the dome will cruise to its new home on the canal. But moving the 700-pound globe off Governors Island requires a special barge, so Schachter has turned to Kickstarter to raise the $5,000 needed to rent the marine hauler.

Harvest Dome, which floats atop 128 two-liter soda bottles, was built to call attention to Manhattan's last remaining salt marsh in Inwood. Schachter said she wanted to make a "poetic link" between that ecosystem and the canal, which was a salt marsh before it was turned into a commercial waterway and dumping ground for industrial businesses.

The 24-foot diameter dome is made out of steel umbrella frames harvested from the streets of New York after storms. Hans Hesselein, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, said the dome's umbrella parts will remind viewers of one of the canal's main challenges — overflowing sewers flood it on rainy days.

"This installation has a lot of power, and is really relevant to the area, especially because of its potential to explore issues of waste and recycling and stormwater management," Hesselein said. "I love that the dome is constructed of umbrellas, which immediately gets one thinking about storms."

The Conservancy is helping Schachter get the dome set up on the canal, and so is the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, whose members will help nudge the orb into place from their canoes.

The dome's new home is officially called the Fourth Street Turning Basin — it's the short branch of the canal that juts toward Third Avenue, right next to the Whole Foods gourmet market scheduled to open by the end of the year on Third Street.

The dome will be visible from the Third Avenue bridge, but for the best look, viewers should hop in canoes and paddle right up to the public art piece, Schachter said.

Dredgers club treasurer Owen Foote said he likes that idea because it will get more people onto the canal, where swimming isn't allowed because of the toxins that taint the water.

The dome will draw attention to the need for recycling, Foote said, adding he likes that shoppers at Whole Foods will have a front row seat for the Harvest Dome.

"On opening day at Whole Foods, there will be a dome made of bottles there to remind everyone to recycle the bottles they're purchasing at the new retail store on our waterway, because if they don’t, they'll end up in New York Harbor," Foote said.

"Plus, it’s just pretty. We need a little more beauty in the area."