Nathan Kensinger

Nathan Kensinger is an interdisciplinary artist raised in San Fransisco, California and now based in Brooklyn, New York City. Kensinger’s work explores hidden urban landscapes, off-limits industrial structures, unnatural waterways, environmental disaster zones, coastal communities endangered by sea level rise, and other liminal spaces notorious for being extremely environmentally degradated. His work encompasses photography, film, installation, curation and writing.

Seeing Landscapes

Nathan Kensinger

“New York City has the most people living in it of any city in the United States and it is very densely packed but as you get out towards the edges of the city, you’ll find these unexpected and unique landscapes that you might not think of when you think of New York city”

Nathan Kensinger

Kensinger explores and exposes “forgotten landscapes” that often exist on the fringes of the city. Through his film and photography, he brings these spaces into light and invites his audience to experience them vicariously. He describes his connections to the landscapes that he has worked with as “very personal” and his explorations of these spaces have led him to new ways of thinking about the practice of observation.

“To me I feel like that’s the crux of the work I do, it is really going to places and experiencing them myself first hand and the sharing of them is almost like the byproduct in a sense… The photographs are what come out of that, the films are what come out of that, but for me it’s actually going to the place and having my own personal experience there”

Nathan Kensinger

Nathan’s work requires a declaration that is juxtaposed to the speedy pace of life in a bustling city. He illuminates the importance of observing and experiencing landscapes rather than altering and manipulating them to benefit us. The “experience” of landscape is critical to Nathan. He describes his work as a “byproduct” of his own meditative interactions with these tucked away spaces and he hopes that it can prompt reflection on our past and present roles in altering them. Kensinger allows his art to speak for itself, he takes on the role of observer and listener and encourages us to do the same.

Observe | shot on the visit to Newtown Creek
Ana Monteiro

Lenses into the Anthropocene

“It began with documenting these industrial buildings on Brooklyn’s waterfront that told the history of the pollution that led to the climate change that we’re now facing. It was these powerhouses, and sugar refineries, and warehouses that had been left all along the waterfront of Brooklyn and were being erased… people don’t want to be reminded of the industrial past and some of the things we’ve done to the environment.”

Nathan Kensinger
Managed Retreat (2018)- A preview of Nathan Kensinger’s documentary film project Managed Retreat

“Managed Retreat evokes myriad emotions in the viewer, empathizing with the people who were forced to sell their homes and move on due to the ever-present environmental dangers… as well as understanding the value of allowing urban areas to be reclaimed by nature, providing habitats for wild animals.”

Clot Magazine

Managed Retreat by Nathan Kensinger illustrates the effects of sea level rise in Staten Island. Flooding and other natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 put the residents of Staten island, especially those living in costal areas, in danger. Through the documentary, Kensinger places us amid a Staten Island neighborhood to cultivate an immersive experience that captures the detrimental and very real effects of climate change. Through the element of observation and film, Kensinger aims to put the viewer directly in the middle of the affected landscape. Rather than explaining what is happening, he utilizes sounds and visuals within his film to uncover what is otherwise hidden for most viewers. Kensinger forsakes words or other interactions in his film in order to allow the audience to independently formulate their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Managed Retreat is meant to encourage people to pay attention to the abandoned landscape, to see further than their limited experiences hopefully leave with new ideas and a sense of awareness.

Nathan Kensinger

The documentary depicts real circumstances that many people face today, as many people have had to retreat. The experience of abandonment is conveyed without much intervention on Kensinger’s end. All objects captured in the documentary were naturally in the landscape: somebody’s table, somebody’s fridge, somebody’s doll. To observe these objects as they are demolished in real time strengthens and solidifies our understandings and connections to ecological issues and hidden spaces. A message central to many of Kensinger’s works is that we can no longer afford not to pay attention, as real people are being tremendously impacted we must understand that the threat of receding coastlines and climate change is imminent.

Re-imaging the “natural” world?

English Kills Voyage (2013) – A documentary film by Nathan Kensinger, Laura Chipley
and Sarah Nelson Wright. This film was a project of The Newtown Creek Armada, a public art project exploring the past, present and future of the Newtown Creek.
Nathan Kensinger

“I think the language we use around “nature” and “not-nature” is really fascinating… the language that we use around all of this is something to be investigated… certainly in places like New York City, what exactly of it is the “natural world”?…  Every aspect of NYC has been dug up, shaped, polluted, turned into something else… every part of the globe has now been touched by our species and altered and changed away from what it might have been without our intervention…”

Ayaka Fujii

“…it’s problematic not to know the very layers of history we are living on…

I hope that through the work that I do, and through other work, that people start to look at places they live in in a different way… that’s a big part of what I do, is hopefully changing people’s point of view to the degree that they might look around them in a somewhat different way. Be it looking at the built landscape in a different way, thinking about the old structures we’re destroying in a different way, or the natural landscape around us in a different way.”

Nathan Kensinger

Further reading: Books influential to Nathan Kensinger’s perspectives and projects