Artists combine science and aesthetics to showcase the voices of local waters.
By Chloe Bennett
What would rivers and lakes say if they could speak? Maybe they would recount their rich histories or share the wisdom from local wildlife. Some might also ask for improved stewardship or a better understanding of their needs.
Through art and conversation, a local group is considering that question and exploring the responsibilities of communities that live near water bodies. Artist and activist pair Blake Lavia and Tzintzun Aguilar-Izzo are curating Listening to Water, an exhibition at St. Lawrence University with several artists and scientists. The effort is an extension of the larger Rights of Nature movement which aims to give rights to natural ecosystems.
“A key factor of the entire exhibition, but also the symposium, is the question: ‘What would water say if it was to speak with human words?” Aguilar-Izzo, who runs the environmental storytelling organization Talking Wings with Lavia, said. “How can we recenter the conversation by not focusing on human needs, but focusing on the environmental needs?”
Using art as a tool to explore that conversation can help people understand the natural world and the science behind it, they said. One example is the fiber art made by wildlife ecologist Michale Glennon, who knits projects in correlation with scientific data for the Adirondack Watershed Institute’s Wool and Water initiative.
“There’s an aesthetic to it that is both visual and tactile that I think engages some people, and maybe gets them to be willing to even try to figure out what’s there that they wouldn’t necessarily do with just a two-dimensional graph on a page or on a computer screen, for example,” Glennon said.
Quilt work from the grandmother-grandaughter team, Iakonikonriiosta and Lorna Maie Thomas, will showcase a piece portraying the St. Lawrence River, or the Kaniatarowanénhne in Mohawk. Pieces from Esthela Calderón Chévez, Sosakete, David Fadden, Alejandra Altamirano Salazar, Matt Burnett and others are also expected at the exhibition.
One artist, Charlie Reinertsen, is using photography to convey peatlands’ role in climate change mitigation.
After visiting Spring Pong Bog in 2020, Reinertsen became fascinated with peatlands, a type of wetland that holds twice as much carbon dioxide as the world’s forests. Spring Pond Bog is owned by the Nature Conservancy and has few visitors. Capturing the photos has launched Reinertsen into new ecological territory.
“I keep stepping into areas where I realize I know nothing, and so it’s just this really fun process of discovery and learning about this very mysterious ecosystem that’s so important to water quality and to climate solutions, really,” he said.
At the core of the exhibition is a hope for people to experience stories from local waters, Aguilar-Izzo said, and deepen connections to ecosystems and the communities around them.
“We’re essentially helping build and weave together the society or the reality that surrounds us all,” they said. “Without storytelling and the stories we all tell each other and ourselves, there would be a lot less meaning in the world.”
Listening to Water runs from Oct. 16 to Dec. 9. in the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery.