The Gowanus Canal (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Gowanus Canal (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Gowanus is a vibrant neighborhood filled with artists in every cubbyhole, and last weekend the neighborhood opened its studios to the public. Here artists are working and producing next to one of the most polluted waterways in the country. (As one article from put it, drinking from the canal will give you all the diseases.) The canal is a beautiful and disgusting thing to look at. It sparkles in this iridescent kind of way when the sun hits it.

It was almost exactly a year ago that Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, filling the streets, homes, and studios with toxic water. In memory it seems much further away. The area has recovered. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst the artists. They appear close knit and supportive; I assume it is partly due to what they have all overcome together.

The trains were a mess, French tourists mobbed staircases, there was plenty of wine and snacks, and every now and then someone would try and rent you a studio. If you managed to navigate through all of this there were some interesting artists working away.

These five stood out to me because they had something odd, genuine, and funny going on. Their works referenced the canal they worked next to with a toxic, humorous, and mutated quality — in a very good way.  Their works could potentially survive living in the oil-slicked waters.

Ben Pederson (site)


Pederson makes art out of everything. The materials are from everywhere, and the work ranges from video to objects. His work is hybrid and mutant. The sculptures could walk or grow right out of the canal.  If Swamp Thing had an art collection, Pederson’s work might be among his most prized possessions.

Sophia Flood (site)


Flood shares a studio with Pederson. Their studio is split right down the middle.  Pederson’s odd growths are on one-side and Flood’s sculptures and paintings on the other.

Flood’s work could almost be driftwood floating down the canal.  It is hard to tell exactly what they are, but they have this subtle beauty. The sculpture is tied down to the studio floor.  It cannot get away. It is being kept in place to be on display for all the studio visitors. Flood has created a world of collections. Her sculptures are placed intentionally all around the studio. Her paintings have this subtle toxic glow to them. They have the slightest touch of neon radiance.

Benjamin Edmiston (site)

Benjamin Edmiston1

Edmiston’s painting collages are a hodge-podge of a grudge rock aesthetic and Grandma Moses. The text in his work says Bad Nature above the text are these toxic looking plants. They are like samples of life that could potentially grow out the Canal. His large painting has a lot of nature and death there are skulls, a watermelon, and more toxic plants. The work reminds me of signs like enter at your own risk. The work is partying with the hard stuff, it is drinking the water from the canal and it does not care.

Meena Hasan (site)


Hasan is new to the Gowanus community — she just moved into a large studio with several artists. Her work is thickly painted and appears gooey. Her paintings have hands and legs in them that might have been dipped into toxic waste. The work glistens and dissolves. It is gross and beautiful, like watching a tragedy unfold, knowing there is nothing anyone can do — but you cannot look away.

Cal Siegel (site)


Siegel shares a studio with Meena and a few other artists, they have a large space sectioned off.

Siegel is a jokester: his paintings and sculptures are funny. They are simple and to the point. They hit you fast, kind of like scrolling through a Tumblr page. You receive content and image quickly; this allows you to take the pieces in on the go. The work also stays with you: strong, modest, and unpretentious, with a humor indifferent to the polluted canal. It is a broken piece of wood with a bowtie.

Gowanus Open Studios took place October 18-20 in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Samuel Jablon ( is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelJablon.