Schuylkill Cen­ter de­buts new ex­hibit

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - By Christina Catanese Christina Catanese di­rects the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Art pro­gram, tweets @Schuylkil­lArt and can be reached at [email protected] schulkill­cen­ For more in­for­ma­tion on the en­vi­ron­men­tal art pro­gram, visit schuylkill­cen­ter.o

Braided Chan­nel is the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s lat­est gallery show, which opened Nov. 7 as we pre­sented the Henry H. Meigs Award for En­vi­ron­men­tal Lead­er­ship to artist Stacy Levy.

Braided Chan­nel cel­e­brates Levy’s ca­reer to date and presents a new ex­ten­sion of her com­mu­nity-based wa­ter work.

Levy has de­vel­oped a new it­er­a­tion of a body of work that en­gages com­mu­nity mem­bers in gath­er­ing wa­ter sam­ples along the full length of lo­cal wa­ter­ways. For the Schuylkill Cen­ter, Levy in­sti­gated a gath­er­ing of wa­ter from the two streams on the our grounds (Smith Run and Meigs Run), dis­played in a li­brary of lo­cal wa­ter spec­i­mens. Start­ing from the head­wa­ters near Hagy’s Mill Road and end­ing near the Schuylkill River Trail, teams of staff and vol­un­teers walked along the stream chan­nels, grab­bing a 16-ounce sam­ple ev­ery 130 feet.

The wall ab­stractly maps the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s small wa­ter­sheds as a cabi­net of wa­ter, with the car­di­nal di­rec­tion north­west be­ing up to­ward the ceil­ing. The streams orig­i­nate from ground­wa­ter springs not far from Hagy’s Mill Road (at right) and flow into the Schuylkill River (left).

The wa­ter sam­ples pro­vide a vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of wa­ter qual­ity and the life of the stream in dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Ponds en­coun­tered along the stream have murkier sam­ples (com­plete with duck­weed, a na­tive aquatic plant) from their still wa­ters, while sam­ples gath­ered from fast-flow­ing bedrock streams ap­pear com­pletely clear. With the agri­cul­tural his­tory of this land, we also en­coun­tered a num­ber of ru­ins, in­clud­ing old pipes, spring­houses, bridges and mill in­fra­struc­ture.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of walk­ing the streams was both in­trigu­ing and chal­leng­ing. Though the streams at times flow along­side trails, find­ing the spring source re­quired ex­ten­sive bush­whack­ing off­trail, some­times through thick brush and bram­bles. But the ef­fort was worth­while to cap­ture this vis­ual snap­shot of these two bod­ies of wa­ter in one day and ex­pe­ri­ence these streams from source to sink in one mov­ing ad­ven­ture.

This Wa­ter Pantry pro­vides one way of look­ing at a small wa­ter­shed com­pre­hen­sively, and the vis­ual dis­play of these sam­ples in­vites re­flec­tion on what is seen and un­seen in wa­ter qual­ity. An ad­di­tional sam­ple of wa­ter from the end of the Schuylkill River in South Philadel­phia was gath­ered by the artist, which has a no­tably dif­fer­ent vis­ual qual­ity to the small, spring-fed streams of the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s forests.

The gallery also fea­tures mov­ing im­age doc­u­men­ta­tion of a sam­pling of Levy’s site-based works.

Much of Stacy Levy’s most com­pelling work has ex­isted out­doors in site-spe­cific, land­scape pieces around the coun­try. Un­less vis­ited in per­son, the scale and power of these kinds of works can be dif­fi­cult to con­vey in more tra­di­tional art set­tings. Doc­u­men­ta­tion is of­ten a chal­lenge for site-based works, which are ever-chang­ing in re­sponse to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions and ac­ti­vated in new ways over time by the pres­ence and par­tic­i­pa­tion of peo­ple and na­ture. In Levy’s case, how na­ture in­ter­acts with and re­sponds to the in­stalled work over time is also crit­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly with re­gards to works that en­gage with eco­log­i­cal pro­cesses directly. How alive these works are is of­ten dif­fi­cult to cap­ture in a gallery set­ting, with still im­ages serv­ing as a very lim­ited trans­la­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of a site.

For this ex­hi­bi­tion, Levy has de­vel­oped short, ges­tu­ral videos that of­fer dynamic views of 10 of her site-based works. They span al­most two decades of Levy’s art prac­tice and ex­plore a range of top­ics of rivers, tides, mold, nutri­ent pol­lu­tion, sun­set, wind and na­tive plants. Some are still ac­tive, while oth­ers were tem­po­rary in­stal­la­tions. The videos of­fer win­dows into the places where a se­lec­tion of Levy’s works live out into the world, just as Levy’s work of­fers win­dows into how na­ture works.

No­tably, Smith Run and Meigs Run are named for two of the found­ing fam­i­lies of the Schuylkill Cen­ter, which in­clude the name­sake of the Meigs Award. The stream bot­tles are for sale at $5 a bot­tle, if you’d like to take one home with you at the end of the show.

Braided Chan­nel: Stacy Levy is on view in the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s art gallery un­til Feb. 2, 2019.


Braided Chan­nel, the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s lat­est gallery show, fea­tures work by artist Stacy Levy.

Wa­ter from the Smith Run is in­cluded in Stacy Levy’s art­work at the Schuylkill Cen­ter.

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