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William Miller Brooklyn, NY, United States

Gowanus Canal
Project info

Brooklyn’s Gowanus canal is one of America’s most polluted waterways. More than a century of unfettered industrial abuse was followed by decades of bungled attempts to clean it up. It’s contaminated waters hold the evidence of it’s history.

To look into the Gowanus canal is to gaze into the eyes of a corpse. It is murky and clouded over but if you look closely you can see life and light reflected in the mercury, feces and coal tar that drift in the canal like malevolent clouds. There’s a lot of mistaken perspectives like the confusion of looking down to see the sun. I'm trying to wade, visually, into the space between water, shit and the sky.

There's something about this that reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch's triptych "The Last Judgment" (1482). In it we witness a dark, terrifying scene of hell on earth. The judged are tortured and murdered by a host of nightmarish figures while above them, god and angels with trumpets, float in a beam of light and blue sky. In one detail of the painting, the damned are being chased into a river by dragons and thrown off of a bridge by strange frog people. I keep imagining that when they're dropping head first into that terrible water they unexpectedly catch a glimpse of god and that blue sky reflected in the black water below them and for one second imagine themselves falling down into heaven.