Canadian Artist Mia Feuer Is Building a Sunken Gas Station in D.C.'s Anacostia River

Feuer, who makes sculpture about the links between carbon consumption and climate change, pictures what oil dependency means for the fate of cities.

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Mia Feuer, "Antediluvian," a sculpture project planned for D.C.'s Anacostia River. (D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities)

In late 2013, Mia Feuer built a skating rink in the rotunda of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She manufactured it using a black synthetic ice made from bitumen, a product extracted from North American shale. Overhead, she suspended a cacophonous sculpture, a menacing mobile meant to evoke tar, feathers, and steel. 

Mia Feuer, An Unkindness, 2013. Courtesy the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

It was one of the boldest D.C. contemporary art exhibitions in years. Tapping on her travels—which took her from a hellish reclamation site in the Athabasca oil sands of Alberta to a Soviet ghost-town mining camp in the Arctic Circle—she used sculpture to convey anxiety over oil and the environment. Just one year after her museum solo-show debut (which I wrote about in a cover story for the Washington City Paper), she's returning to Washington with an even bolder proposal. 

This fall, Feuer is fabricating a gas station—and partially submerging it in the Anacostia River.

Mia Feuer, Antediluvian, 2014. Watercolor. Courtesy D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

From September to December, commuters taking the East Capitol Street NE bridge to their jobs on the Hill will see what appears to be a fully functioning gas station sinking underneath the river. The sculpture will be solar powered, collecting sunlight by day and converting it into energy to power gas-station signage by night.

Feuer's work, titled Antediluvian, will be installed on the banks of D.C.'s Anacostia River, near Heritage Island in Kingman Lake. (Heritage Island is a small manmade island, built from refuge dredged from the Anacostia.) The piece is just one component in D.C.'s third-annual 5x5 Project, a citywide event in which five curators select five artists to erect temporary art projects around the city.

Schematic rendering. Courtesy the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Viewers won't be able to visit the sculpture directly (plainly, it's underwater). But Feuer is planning boat tours and nature tours and workshops (in partnership with Kingman Island Park). Feuer—who is a professor of sculpture at the California College of the Arts—is also planning a "flooded lecture series," in which she will invite climatologists and glaciologists to give lectures by kayak. Naturally.

A gas station floods in New Port Richey, Florida, during Tropical Storm Debby rises in June 2012. (Brian Blanco/Reuters) 

With Antediluvian and its attendant programming, Feuer is making work on a civic scale. She isn't alone in that realm, of course. The creative consultancy Oh Heck Yeah just turned a massive screen near Denver's convention center into a video-game station. Then there's that whole rubber-duck thing. Elsewhere in D.C., the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden tried but failed to get in on the scale of spectacle with a giant inflatable temporary "bubble" pavilion.

The difference with Feuer's work is that it seems to have a point—and it's one that's intensely relevant for U.S. cities. Feuer's work casually references rising sea levels as a result of carbon-fueled climate change and the catastrophic changes looming for some cities. While floods and evacuations may not loom as large over D.C. as in New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans, Washington has another disaster—Congress—and that's the one Feuer means to address.

Lafitte, Louisiana, during Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. (Dan Anderson/Reuters)

If the watercolor renderings are any indication, Feuer's point is as poignant as it is polemical: An example of alternative solar energy that points to the fate of strict oil dependency.

Mia Feuer, Antediluvian, 2014. Watercolor. Courtesy the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously a senior editor at Architect magazine, and a contributing writer to Washington City Paper and The Washington Post.