Next To The Jones Falls River

2023


Next To The Jones Falls River is an act of stewardship.


This work intends to bring this story of abjection to light while relating the river’s experience to a queer one. For hundreds of years, human beings have been imposing our lifestyle onto the river, denying it the ability to behave autonomously. Gabion walls and canals channelize the river: straightening it.

But, the river transcends all categories and organizations humans have projected upon it. It is expansive, it is queer. Its water levels are dependent on climatic systems, extending the river outside of Baltimore and into larger earth patterns. The water that flows through the river moves through space and time into different water bodies, hemispheres, and atmospheres.
 The river is connected to all water on earth. It is beyond binaries and rich in nuance.

The river is vast and infinite, but still local. It is a valuable community member, providing food and water to millions of critters who live along the river bank.

Starting in December of 2022, I started collecting discarded, human-made objects from the river. Beginning with a simple act of environmental stewardship, this habit of going down to the river to pick up debris expanded our relationship. I collected plastic, rusted steel, textiles, construction equipment, automotive parts, and other objects caked in soil.

The objects displayed in the exhibition include various textiles, rubbers, and plastics bound together in a 200 foot snake. The snake works its way above and below ground: the same condition of the river. It is tasked with occupying the space to its fullest, to fill it up akin to water, and to tell the story of the river as it exists in the water: one of abjection, marginalization, and industrialization.

Next, there are two steel pipes drawn on with charcoal. The charcoal tattoo drawings depict ecotopic, crooked, erratic, and pre-existing versions of the river that can be seen on 17th century maps. A recurring charcoal sketch is that of the original oxbow turn that was later to be straightened out and sent through pipes larger but similar to these. The pipes are caked in rust, decomposing, and wanting to return back to their basic elements: a transformation catalyzed by the waters of the river.

Also included is a white t-shirt that has been stained by the soil and water along the river. The shirt is torn at the edges, roots growing throughout it. It blends body and earth: boundless and transforming.

Lastly, four archival images of the construction of the 1914 river burial were drawn on with charcoal. The first is an image of the mayor and chief engineer standing in the in-process culvert. Once again illustrated with the original oxbow turn. Two other images depict those same tunnels from a further distance where you can see the surrounding urban landscape. The last image is of a conveyor belt moving material in and out of the river bed.

The effort is to give the river a stage, to grant it personhood and call back to an ecotopia—an autonomous version of the river, one of crookedness, queerness, and expansiveness. The river once twisted and turned across the landscape, adjusting its course daily. It was and still is unmappable.

The river reads the land, thinks, and acts–living symbiotically with bullfrog tadpoles, porpoises, and me.

I ask the viewer to imagine the river’s connectivity to their bodies: the osmosis of matter, ideas, and life with one another. What does it mean to exist as extensions of each other? To me, it is allowing the river to fill me up and run through my veins—and I through theirs.
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