Fish in the East River Say: “Hey Wht R U Up 2?”

This weekend at the Conflux festival, artist and technologist Natalie Jeremijenko will hold a workshop showing off a fish monitoring system that issues text-message status reports.

Natalie Jeremijenko

Natalie Jeremijenko’s art strives to highlight environmental and scientific issues. Past works include robotic dogs that were hacked to sniff out ground pollutants, for example. In another project, Jeremijenko planted 100 pairs of trees, all cloned from a single plant, throughout San Francisco. It showed that while the trees were genetically identical they grew in unique patterns–thus highlighting the complex dance between nature and nurture.


This Saturday, during the Conflux Festival, she’s offering a personal tour of her new work, Fish n’ Microchips. At noon, anyone who wants can meet up with Jeremijenko at the Barney Building, on NYU’s campus, and from there, she’ll guide the group to a spot in the east river, where the work’s installed.

Natalie Jeremijenko

It comprises a grid of LED stalks, planted in the east river and just poking out above the water’s surface. Each of them has a proximity detector and water monitoring devices; when a fish swims past, they light up—a way of making visible the animal hubbub teeming under the water’s surface, which we normally never see. And there’s a bonus: Vistors can text the installation, and the installation will text back, giving updates on fish activity and water quality. During the show, Jeremijenko is going to be preparing an “interspecies lunch”–that is, she’ll be feeding visitors a meal made of ingredients that the fish eat as well (though presumably not from the East River).

Although there is no indication that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy inspired Jeremijenko, it does bring to mind a passage from that book:

“Tips for aliens living in New York: Amphibious life forms from any of the worlds in the Swulling, Noxios, or Nausalia systems will particularly enjoy the East River, which is said to be richer in those lovely life-giving nutrients than the finest and most virulent laboratory slime yet achieved.”

Fish n’ Microchips is a good representative of the kind of art you’ll find at the Conflux Festival this weekend. The festival has hundreds of events and workshops, spread throughout the city. According to the festival’s founder, Christina Rey, “We’re trying to show new ways of using the city, and new things that can happen if you suspend disbelief for a moment.”

Some of the events include Soundwalk podcasts, in which a narrator guides you through a path in the city, weaving about your surroundings as you walk. Elsewhere, there will be a tour of the Waterpod, a kind of floating garden and squatters community; a workshop on creating your own cheeky urban graffiti; and a virtual “driving tour” of the city, using only Google Maps. Check out the entire Saturday line-up here and the Sunday line-up here.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.