Listening to Water followed the rivers and streams that flow from the Adirondack Mountains to their confluences with the Kaniatarowanénhne, translated from the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) as the Great River, also known as the St. Lawrence River. Traveling through and with these waters, I co-curated this exhibit with Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo under the Talking Wings and Talking River, Inc. umbrella. The exhibit was hosted by St. Lawrence University's Richard F. Brush Gallery and it showcased pieces from a group of artists, researchers, and traditional knowledge holders, who collaborated to share the voices of rivers and their more-than-human guardians.
I personally collaborated three pieces to this exhibit.
The Eyes of Water
Medium: watercolor and pen hot press cotton paper
I see you, as I flow by the banks of your sprawling civilization, cement constructions. I see you, as you sail over my endless body. I fill you when you drink in my essence. I live within you, regenerating the cells that keep you alive. I am always present, watching, guarding, listening. And you might be able to glimpse me, through the ripples of sunlight that paint my waves. You might be able to sense me, when you close your eyes and let the current pull your body along my floods. I’m the immensity of what you call nature. The space that looks empty, but it’s not. I am the spirit, the Eyes of Water, the ancient guardian of this old land. I have seen eras go by, generations upon generations of living beings thrive.
Things are changing, as they always did, but I don’t like where you, human being, are taking us with this mad race of growth, this race of endless need. You’re changing the very land on which you stand, taking everything you can. You’re spreading contaminants like there was no end. I won’t tell you, the end is coming, because it’s not. I’ll keep on flowing through the eons, changing as the planet changes, but you won’t. One of these days, I’ll wash away your walls of cement. One of these days, I’ll heal the scars you made to our land.
I see you.
The Great River Spirit
Medium: air hardening natural clay, bio-degradable acrylic base and natural pigments
I think I saw you, Great River Spirit, in the snow snakes that rush with the wind over your frozen body, when the sun is setting on a land of ice. I saw you, in the golden light of the sun that dances over your waters on a warm summer day. I saw you, sleeping on one of the many atolls that populate your flowing body, the flicker of a tail disappearing from sight. I sensed you, standing on the shoreline of your immense movement, the power of so much water carrying us all towards the ocean. I followed you, up and up, where you were born, birthed from your progenitors, the Great Lakes. And I have lived close to you, your thoughtful and silent passage draping a blanket of unease over the landscapes I called home. For I did feel your nervous unhappiness, oh Spirit of the Great River. I felt how the dams of industrial exploitation have choked your flow. I have seen how your voice was silenced, how your jumping cascade is no more. So, here I am, oh Great River Spirit, singing your story, telling your story, and dreaming of a future where no walls hamper your flow. A future where no contaminants kill everyone you care for. I dream of a future in which your voice is heard anew, and the trees and meadows have returned. A future in which us human have learned how to live in harmony and respect, for you have kept us alive in spite of everything, in spite of our culture of destruction and death.
To the Spirit of the River of the Big Fishes
Medium: Needle felted wool, cloth and glass and stone beads
We met on a cold winter night, which was both the end and the beginning of a new year. You came bouncing downstream, asking in joyous tones what we were all celebrating on this day of new beginnings. And since then, I called onto you, whenever I needed a friend. I called onto you whenever I felt alone, whenever I needed a guide that could just point me in what direction to go. I missed you when you traveled far, to visit the remote corners of your mighty flow. You come down the mountains, fed by endless little streams, your bed brown in forgotten pine needles. I know you love to fly along your currents, when rain comes, singing with the loud voice of thunder in the late summer months. I know you spiral and dance, when the first snow starts falling, when the colorful season comes to an end. I know you can be silent and somber, like the watchful mountains that cradled you at birth. You taught me how to listen, how to see. You reminded me how special this world is, alive just like me and every other more-than-human-being. I look for you even now that I don’t dwell by your meandering banks. I follow your example. I always try to dance, skirting the smaller and bigger boulders as I go, knowing that like your waters, I’ll always find a way to flow forward into the future, into the unknown.