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A Sculpture Meant to Celebrate the Renewal of the Gowanus Canal Just Got Caught on Trash and Sank

R.I.P. Harvest Dome 2.0

A drone shot of the Harvest Dome 2.0, sinking over a sunken ship in Gowanus Canal (Julio Santiago)
smithsonian.com

In 2013, artists released a 24-foot diameter floating orb constructed of discarded umbrellas and two-liter soda bottles into the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. The sculpture was meant to symbolize a brighter tomorrow for the Gowanus. But on Wednesday, the sculpture sank, dragged down to the depths of the toxic waterway it was meant to enliven. For Animal, Liam Mathews writes:

The Harvest Dome, built by architects Alexander Levi and Amanda Schachter out of 450 discarded umbrellas and 128 plastic bottles, had floated atop the fetid water for 18 months until one of its anchors became tangled in the sunken remains of another vessel on the floor of the canal and it drowned.

The Gowanus Canal was once a busy cargo transportation hub that connected Upper New York Bay (between Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey and Staten Island) with the interior of Brooklyn, where factories churned out goods. Those factories also dumped raw sewage and waste into the canal. Unfortunately, the canal’s engineers overestimated the power of tides to flush out the canal, reports Dan Nosowitz for Popular Science. "[T]he Gowanus is literally a toxic, radioactive waste dump that the federal government says requires half a billion dollars to become tolerable," he writes. (For exactly how gross the canal is, read that terrifyingly detailed article).

In 2013, the EPA released a plan to clean up the canal. And in November of that year, three months after the basic plan was published, Leslie Albrecht reported on the artists’ vision for the sculpture for DNAinfo:

"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."

Two years later, Albrecht, again for DNAinfo, reported on the Harvest Dome’s demise. The sunken vessel that dragged the dome down might be the remains of a different art project, where the artists set fire to their creation. 

"It’s like some kind of film noir thing where the past of the canal is dragging down this new thing," Levi told Albrecht. "It was like Darth and Harvest Dome was Luke."

The artists knew the project would be temporary — the first Harvest Dome drifted from its moorings in the Bronx beached at Rikers Island in 2011. The project won’t remain as trash in the canal. The EPA agreed to remove the remains of the dome during their dredging, which will soon start.

In an email to SmartNews, Schachter writes:

I was in Gowanus yesterday morning and can say that the place has changed so much in the eighteen months the dome has been there — there is the promise of the imminent clean-up of the canal, which is great, but I was sad to see that in the area's rapid change, many of the beloved landmarks were gone, such as the Kentile sign and the beautiful concrete silos of the 4th Street turning basin. 

It's more than fitting that the Harvest Dome was witness to these changes and experienced its natural life-cycle during this time. 

An aerial of the dome, from balloon mapping in September 2014, by Eymund Diegel.
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