Along the Arthur Kill and out of view, the landscape at Freshkills—former landfill, future park—continues its slow transformation. It’s been 21 years since the design competition, ten since the inauguration of a playground at the southwestern edge. The opening of the first portion of the North Park has been postponed several times, and the project’s completion date, 2035 originally, is certainly decades away. Even here at Urban Omnibus, long committed to documenting the site’s evolution, we have hardly checked in over the past four years. In the interim, Jade Doskow has been named official photographer-in-residence, with unprecedented and ongoing access to the off-limits landscape. With escorts from the city’s parks and sanitation departments and large format camera in tow, she leads a very 19th century expedition on the 21st century site. Since 2018, Doskow has made more than 50 visits and a growing body of work surveying and abstracting the actively managed and created landscape, where leachate is collected and contained, and wattles and gabions stabilize the ground, preparing the passage from the reception of New York City’s municipal waste to human visitors.
Freshkills makes monumental claims, ushering the ecological redemption of a site of profligate consumption, even if the reality is exceedingly more complicated. Fittingly, Doskow’s photos hardly conjure a new arcadia or a sweeping historical tableau. Her recent work is closer to the climate-fictional world of the 2018 film adaptation of Annihilation, depicting a zone of exclusion just beyond what we know to be safe and reliable. Freshkills is a place with its own logic and life forms, where humans are merely spectral traces. Elements and compounds like salt, iron, methane, and straw appear the driving forces in the landscape, and we behold their shimmering and unsettling effects. Musician and composer Heather Campanelli recently accompanied Doskow on several forays and made field recordings inspiring and incorporated into new electronic compositions. Their work was recently on view together at the Cornell Biennial, we present our own selection here. Instead of scenes of a restored wilderness with a postcard view of lower Manhattan, deer in the grasslands, and birds in migration, the sights and sounds below could only be described as other-worldly.
All photographs copyright Jade Doskow