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River Fugues by Margaret Cogswell for Open Rivers

Tuesday, March 15, 2022 8:41 PM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

Issue Twenty : Winter 2022 / Feature


By Margaret Cogswell

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes
The Negro Speaks of Rivers[1]

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.

Simon Schama, in the introduction to his book, Landscape and Memory, describes this kind of exploration beautifully:

Landscape and Memory has been built around such moments of recognition as this, when a place suddenly exposes its connections to an ancient and peculiar vision of the forest, the mountain, or the river. A curious excavator of traditions stumbles over something protruding above the surface of the commonplaces of contemporary life. He scratches away, discovering bits and pieces of a cultural design that seems to elude coherent reconstitution but which leads him deeper into the past. [2]

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. Coming back to the United States at age 13 was like moving to a foreign country. Although I was bilingual and spoke English as well as Japanese, I did not know this country’s history, or understand its culture. My early efforts to better understand this country were through the study of literature. This led to my efforts to explore the intervals between words and what cannot be translated, and eventually to my work as a visual artist.

Continue reading here Open Rivers: Rethinking Water Place and Community

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