Katherine Behar: Maritime Messaging: Red Hook

What if water is a witness? Surrounding Brooklyn and neighborhoods like Red Hook, water remains a constant in a rapidly changing borough. Human history fluctuates over time, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, booming and busting. What if water has absorbed it all?

In Maritime Messaging: Red Hook, artist Katherine Behar trained an artificial intelligence (A.I.) on the history of Red Hook in order to help the water to tell its story. Using underwater sound recordings, Maritime Messaging staged a mock conversation between the water of Red Hook and a digital assistant app that asked the water to send messages and translated its gurgles into words. The resulting phrases were generated by an artificial neural network, a form of A.I. The poetic outcome suggests a mysterious glimpse into the water’s muddled memories of Red Hook’s maritime past.

On October 29, 2017, to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, fifteen performers journeyed from Wall Street Pier 11 to Red Hook on NYC Ferry boats. Standing as witnesses, they listened to the water and used iPads to broadcast its conversation. An unannounced performer, Tropical Storm Philippe, made a guest appearance. Frequently upstaging its human counterparts, Philippe recalled the ghost of Sandy and underscored water’s vital impact.

The historic oil tanker the MARY A. WHALEN, home of PortSide New York, presented a sound installation with the gurgling ocean and the A.I.’s conversation reverberating through its metallic hull.

Listen to audio from the project here.

Maritime Messaging: Red Hook was produced in collaboration with PortSide New York and Pioneer Works. PortSide supplied the content of their e-museum and community guide at www.RedHookWaterStories.org as source material for the neural network to study. Maritime Messaging received support from the MacDowell Colony.

Technology for Maritime Messaging was provided by Baruch College.
Technologist and Programmer: Silvia Ruzanka
Project Manager: Bethany Tabor

Photos by Christine Dalenta and Ashika Kuruvilla