In 1995, I was invited by the “Paul Bardwell Gallery” in Medellin, Colombia to show my sculptural installation work. In the middle of the post-colonial movement, I could not envision myself as an American installing my work and then leaving. That scenario felt too colonial to me. I said to the gallery director and art critic Juan Alberto Gaviria, Juan “I wish to create a collaboration with other environmental artists from Colombia.” He invited me to meet artists who worked with the nature/culture dichotomy and curators in Medellin and Bogotá. Gloria Posada, Carlos Uribe, and Juan Luis Mesa had a strong desire to make a statement about the need for nations to collaborate rather than malign each other, as the U.S. and Colombia were doing at the time, and as well to bring awareness to Colombia’s river pollution due to soil erosion resulting from deforestation, cattle raising, coffee production, pesticides, herbicides, and mining along riverbanks. We decided on a bi-national project that would take place in our home cities Medellin, Colombia and Providence, Rhode Island, U.S. We communicated for 11 months to formulate a binational collaboration. I raised funds to bring the three artists from Medellin to Providence for a month of planning and assembly. We concluded that an urgent issue common to Providence and Medellin was the effects of canalizing a river on its ecology and pollution of our rivers’ waters, which residents were largely not aware of. As the greater Providence area enjoys a large population of Colombians who are often contextualized with the illegal drug trade, we also worked to humanize Colombians by portraying them in a more holistic light.
photo credit: Wikimedia
Retorno, Medellin Colombia,
Medellin, Colombia: “Retorno” meaning “the return” signifies the return of the spirit of the river. We filmed the headwaters of the Medellin River on the St. Helena mountain, and projected this film of rushing water onto a street in Medellin named “La Playa,” (meaning The Beach). The Medellin River still courses under the asphalt, unbeknownst to most residents, except elders who used to congregate to wash their clothing. Together we worked to bring this phenomena of a lost river to the attention of the Medellin population. Asphalting the river and replacing this public gathering place with washing machine facilities eased the labor of laundry, but also removed from society one of the most democratizing aspects of daily life. Local residents who attended the projection of a running river onto the street, became like children swimming in the light. “Retorno” was re-enacted the fall of 2014 in Medellin.
Retorno, Medellin Colombia, after sunset
Retorno, Medellin Colombia, night
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