Buried Treasure

What began as a performance project at Fresh Kills Landfill became a witnessing of how 9/11 impacted the workers who had to sift through the debris of the World Trade Center for anything that could help with identification.

A live performance of interviews at Snug Harbor Cultural Center
about Fresh Kills Landfill.

Buried Treasure: A Fresh Kills Reclamation Project began in response to the agreement reached by the Mayor, the Governor and the Borough President to close the landfill on Staten Island. One of the only two man-made structures visible from outer space, Fresh Kills Landfill offers a sobering snapshot on garbage and human responsibility. The scale alone serves as a metaphor as recyclable as the plastic/paper/glass trash that New Yorkers sort through before taking out the trash. After receiving a call from Olivia George, Snug Harbor’s Director of Art and Community Engagement, Pottenger started a two-year process of interviews, visits, research, and meetings that culminated in a public performance of interviews with individuals whose stories represent the buried treasure in Fresh Kills Landfill before and after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The attack on the World Trade Center had catapulted Fresh Kills into a new era, during which her dedicated workers daily faced the grim and lengthy task of sorting through the debris to help the living understand, respond, and heal. To them we owe our deepest thanks. Buried Treasure included the post-9/11 stories of these workers, politicians, residents, and citizens, mixed in with the experiences that best reflect the heart of this immense public works project. There’s no end to critically important questions around the issues surrounding trash – the politics, economics and sociology of garbage including toxic waste, labor concerns, environmental racism – but in the end, it was people’s stories that made sense of it all.

Buried Treasure reclaimed the unseen but deeply experienced history of human beings working in and around the landfill throughout its fifty-two years of existence. As Marty interviewed individuals before a live audience, Carla Peterson documented these stories on video. The men working with 9/11 debris asked not to be included in the interviews.

Following the performance interviews, the video was made available for viewing in the Newhouse Gallery. Participants included Brendan Sexton, former Commissioner of Sanitation during the infamous garbage scow’s journey around the world; Benjamin Miller, author of a best-selling 200-year history of NYC’s garbage; Dave Hendrickson, who had spent the last 10 years supervising the recovery of lost personal items; and Nicolas Dmetrizin from Staten Island’s Borough President Guy Molinari’s office.