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Mississippi River Fugues, collage of video stills, Margaret Cogswell, 2008. Image courtesy of Ed West.


What is it to “know” rivers? As an artist I have been asking myself this question for over twenty years. Ever since an artist residency in Cleveland, Ohio led to my encountering the burning river history of the Cuyahoga River, I realized that all rivers have stories, and to learn of their histories was to explore and listen. In this essay, I will focus on my research on different rivers, sharing the meandering paths which have led me to explore these rivers and my creative responses to them in the form of mixed-media art installations that seek to reflect the complex relationships between land, water, and peoples. To contextualize the impetus for what developed into an ongoing series of River Fugues projects, I will offer some personal history. Although I was born in the United States (in Memphis, Tennessee along the Mississippi River), I went to Japan with my parents when I was 18 months old and lived there until I was 13 years old…

'TWEED: Border Ballads' courtesy of Tania Kovats


The River Tweed speaks instantly of borders, of unity and division, but also of warp and weft, telling us much about its shapeshifting character. This living marker of national meanings and historical boundaries flows eastwards 97 miles from the Lowther Hills to Berwick-upon-Tweed, descending 1,440 feet over that length. Its source rises 40 miles north of Scotland’s westernmost border with England. The river enters the sea two miles south of the border’s easternmost point. There is a ring of geological predestination to this bordering identity. It’s as if the Tweed exists as a sturdy trace of the ocean that separated Scotland and England 520 million years ago…

The Twelve Jing Xiakou, a real scene, Taishan Shigandang. Image courtesy of Jiao Xingtao.

Professor Jiao Xingtao and The Yangdeng Art Cooperative Project

By Jiao Xingtao and Mary Modeen. The Yangdeng Art Cooperatives, with a cumulative total of more than 37 artists and students, worked each year in collaboration with local villagers in the small rural village of the same name as the river, Yangdeng, in a remote rural area of Tongzi County in Guizhou Province. Organized and led by Professor Jiao Xingtao, this project, over many years, was begun to “reconstruct the continuity between art and life” through an emphasis on “artistic negotiation.” As such, it constitutes a socially engaged art initiative, locating this remote rural village sited on a river as the experimental art locus for approaching an independent but profoundly collaborative working method…

A sensor station overlooking the Hackensack River. Image courtesy of Evelyn Dsouza.

A Place in Flux: Memory and Futurity in the Hackensack Meadowlands

From the middle of the Hackensack River, sweltering in the heat of an early summer day, I peered up at the New Jersey Turnpike from my seat on the pontoon boat. I usually see this place from the view of my own car—or occasionally, the train, from which an expansive view of the estuary is even easier to take in: billowing stands of common reed (Phragmites), glistening mudflats at certain times of the day, and looming cityscapes on the horizon. I’d never before found myself in the landscape quite like this, from the view of the water…

"Returning the River" by Molly Van Avery, Dameun Strange, and Michael Hoyt. Image courtesy of Michael Hoyt.

Review of Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As the water quality coordinator for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) for nine years, I organized and hosted the Mississippi River Forum. A monthly informational and networking series, the River Forum was one of my more visible tasks. A fundamental organizing principle of this ongoing series was to bring together a disciplinarily diverse group of water resource practitioners and decision-makers for conversations with people beyond their typical working relationships…

Illustration of Nokomis (Grandmother) appearing over a fire.Image courtesy of Nedahness Greene.

On Madweyaashkaa: Waves Can Be Heard with Moira Villiard

In February 2021, artist Moira Villiard debuted her installation, Madweyaashkaa: Waves Can Be Heard as the fourth installment of the Illuminate the Lock series at the closed Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On three chilly February evenings, 2,500 people walked through the snow on top of Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam to watch what Villiard calls an “animated video collage” projected on the 49-by-400-foot concrete walls of the no-longer-functioning lock.