A public garden & cultural center

Matthew Mazzotta


Remediate/Re-vision: Public Artists Engaging the Environment
Glyndor Gallery | August 1 – November 28, 2010

Household pets, primarily dogs, produce millions of tons of waste each year. This waste is usually collected in plastic bags and discarded, ultimately ending up in a landfill. These bags of waste release methane gas into the atmosphere, an environmentally damaging form of greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a harmful greenhouse gas. Matthew Mazzotta conceived of the Park Spark project as a way to combat this problem, by initiating a small, simple change in the daily behaviors of a community.

Park Spark asks the city of Cambridge to collaborate with its citizens at Pacific Street Park in order to substitute the common trash-can-and-plastic-bag model of dog waste collection with a public methane digester and biodegradable bag. This digester converts the dog waste into methane, a usable form of energy. This methane would burn constantly in the form of a gas lamppost—an “eternal flame” monument, until another, more communal, use for the methane is decided upon. In this way, the methane flame calls for civic engagement from the surrounding community. By making minor modifications to their habits, the public can reduce greenhouse emissions, reducing the carbon footprint of the park, and provide free, clean energy to their community.


Possible uses for the methane include boiling water for coffee, creating the light for a projector or a streetlamp in a dark corner, or creating heat to bake bread—the options are endless. By asking the public to determine a use for the methane energy collected by the Park Spark digester, Park Spark brings people together to brainstorm, dialogue, and explore solutions to environmental and ecological issues.

Possible use for methane energy: a community light show.

Matthew Mazzotta on Park Spark

I had been interested in anaerobic digesters for a while; they are this very simple technology that only does one thing: deprives animal waste of oxygen, so that the microbes in the waste put off burnable methane gas that can be used as an energy source. I had traveled to northern India to study people using digesters in their homes with cow manure, and had been impressed with how elegant the system was in dealing with waste. A few months later, I was in a dog park in Cambridge, MA, and I saw the trash can overflowing with dog waste in plastic bags. If there was a moment of inspiration, I think that would have to be it. From there I wanted to work with the city to change the infrastructure of dealing with dog waste, and bring it to a more social, aesthetic, and environmentally-conscious point of discussion.

As a conceptual artist with a transdisciplinary practice, I work with various forms of knowledge and experts from different fields. It is often as simple as bringing what another field does very well to a different audience or context—just with a slight twist. With Park Spark, small-scale passive anaerobic digesters are a common low-tech machine used around the world in places like India, China, and parts of South America. I made some small improvements to meet safety regulations so it could be brought into parks in the U.S., and then directed the flame to create new community-driven social spaces instead of using it to cook.

Technology is usually regarded as amazing when it is first presented. For example, “Making free energy from the sun!”—you think, “Wow, that’s amazing!”—but over time, it becomes banal. I think art should be the opposite. At first you are not sure why this idea is here or what it means, but there is still something captivating about it. Later that night, when you are in bed, you start thinking, “What was that about,” or you start to see how that idea is connected to different parts of reality that you hadn’t seen connected before. For me, if an idea becomes appropriated by the people of the area and they are made to feel like it is theirs, and if by their participation they can add something to the piece—that is success.

The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Shannon; Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.