Art practices exploring contemporary ecosystems and wild growth in post-industrial sites

Chance Ecologies is a framework for artistic gestures and research projects exploring the un-designed landscapes and wilderness found in abandoned spaces, post-industrial sites, and landfills. The main trajectories of the project are to create research and discourse around the value of wild spaces in the urban environment; to document, learn from, and commemorate the naturally occurring ecosystems that are being lost to development; and to articulate contemporary readings of and new forms of relating to (urban) wilderness.


Chance Ecologies began investigating its first project site, Hunter’s Point South, Queens, in the summer of 2015, with a group of 20 international artists creating research-based arts projects documenting and mapping this site, working with materials on site, and creating photo & video on site.

During the month of August 2015, a series of public events, talks, workshops and participatory walks were facilitated at the Hunter’s Point South site.

The resulting artworks, documentation, research and findings were presented in an exhibition at Radiator Gallery in Long Island City in Winter 2015/16, titled Chance Ecologies: The Wild Landscape of Hunter’s Point South. A series of public events linking the gallery to the project site took place in January 2016.

By the Fall of 2016, Hunter’s Point South had been completely leveled to make way for a residential development, and the curators of Chance Ecologies began investigating new Chance Ecologies sites in Queens.

In the Summer of 2016, Chance Ecologies worked with two different Chance Ecologies sites in Queens: The Flushing River and the Newtown Creek, presenting a series of public arts events at each site, in collaboration with the Queens Museum. During July and August 2016, the artists and curators of Chance Ecologies participated in a 6-week-long artists residency as part of the Studio In The Park program, in partnership with the Queens Museum, New York City Parks, and ArtBuilt.

In October 2016, Chance Ecologies: Queens was exhibited at the Queens Museum’s Community Partnership Gallery, presenting works from Hunter’s Point South, the Flushing River and the Newtown Creek.

In 2017 and 2018, Chance Ecologies began expanding its research to encompass sites in all five boroughs of New York City, while presenting its continuing investigations to a wider audience, including the 2017 presentation Chance Ecologies: Artists and Post-Industrial Urban Wilderness at UnionDocs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the 2018 presentation Chance Ecologies: Wild Panorama Walk at the Queens Museum, for the Open Engagement conference.

In 2019, Chance Ecologies created Listening to Dutch Kills, a new public art project about the Dutch Kills waterway in Queens. This immersive audio walk was commissioned by the SWIM Coalition, and includes new works by several Chance Ecologies artists.

Artists + Content of the artistic investigations

The participating artists  of Chance Ecologies explored the nuanced relationships to wilderness and the larger concepts of the human-nature relationship embedded at the initial project site, Hunter’s Point South, with a range of mediums and artistic practices, including photo and video documented performance, various forms of mapping and archaeology, sound recording and broadcasting, species identification, participatory actions, and low-impact site-specific installations.

Research themes included: contemporary readings of wilderness and the human relation to nature, post-human / post-industrial ecologies, the unplanned / un-designed landscape, accidental playgrounds and socially undefined spaces, embedded histories of the site, fields of knowledge / the land as pedagogy, wild spaces as part of an urban ecology.

These themes and projects have continued to evolve as the artists of Chance Ecologies have explored the Flushing River, the Newtown Creek, and other sites across New York City.

Community Partners

Chance Ecologies: Hunter’s Point South was realized in partnership with Amplifier Inc. and the RadiatorArts Gallery.

Chance Ecologies: Hunter’s Point South was produced in affiliation with Amplifier Inc. – a nonprofit organization using art and design as tools of urban transformation and city-making. Amplifier creates programs that connect public and private groups with the global art and design field to bring the most innovative work to under-served groups and smaller communities around the country, where it can have the greatest possible resonance.


Chance Ecologies: Hunter’s Point South was hosted by the RadiatorArts Gallery, which acted as project hub for programming, and hosted an exhibition of the resulting works and artistic site research in Dec 2015 – Jan 2016.

Chance Ecologies: Newtown Creek was realized in partnership with the Queens Museum and the Newtown Creek Alliance. A series of public programs on the creek were created by Chance Ecologies for the Queens Museum exhibit Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix, with logistical support provided by the Newtown Creek Alliance.

Chance Ecologies: Flushing River was realized in partnership with the Queens Museum, the NYC Parks Department, and ArtBuilt, with whom the artists and curators of Chance Ecologies participated in a 6-week-long Studio In The Park artists residency.

Chance Ecologies: Queens was exhibited as part of the Queens Museum’s Community Partnership Exhibition Program.

Listening to Dutch Kills was commissioned by the SWIM Coalition, as part of their project Getting to Zero in Dutch Kills, and includes interviews with the Newtown Creek Alliance and Greenshores NYC.

Project Team

Chance Ecologies was created by Catherine Grau, Stephen Zacks, and Nathan Kensinger. It is currently co-curated by Catherine Grau and Nathan Kensinger.

Chance Ecologies: Hunter’s Point South was organized and co-curated by Catherine Grau, Stephen Zacks, and Nathan Kensinger. Chance Ecologies: Flushing River, Chance Ecologies: Newtown Creek and Chance Ecologies: Queens were organized and co-curated by Catherine Grau and Nathan Kensinger. Listening to Dutch Kills was co-curated by Catherine Grau, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson-Wright.

Catherine Grau is an artist based in Long Island City, Queens, working in the field of public and participatory art practices. Her interest lies in exploring other ways of knowing and being through embodied and situated unlearning processes that investigate the body-land relationship.

Nathan Kensinger is a photographer, filmmaker, installation artist and curator based in Brooklyn, whose work documents New York City’s post-industrial waterfront. His public art projects include The Newtown Creek Armada (2012) and Gowanus Voyage (2013), which encouraged visitors to explore New York’s waterways, ecology, and history.

Stephen Zacks is an internationally recognized architecture and urbanism reporter, theorist, and cultural producer based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and a native of Flint, Michigan. He is a co-founder of the Greenpoint Bring to Light – Nuit Blanche Festival (2010 – 2011) and Founder and Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project (2011 – present).

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