Water Soundings

By Yang Fan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-12 17:28:01

Exhibition inspired by waterways highlights daily life and wider social issues

A solo exhibition entitled Water Soundings is being held in the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, Qingpu district, featuring a series of water-related mixed media installations by New York-based artist Margaret Cogswell.

Water has been a focus of Cogswell's mixed media installation projects since 1999. She chose this title because her works were created in response to her "reading" of the rivers, in an effort to explore the interdependence between people, industry and their local waterways.

The exhibition falls into two parts. One part comprises drawings and videos created during Cogswell's two-month residency in Zhujiajiao. The other features a series of videos showing her mixed media installations created in New York.

(From top to bottom)New York-based artist Margaret Cogswell's series of water-related drawings and mixed media installations are on display at Zenda Zhujiajiao Art Museum. Photos: Courtesy of the artist

In a darkened room at the exhibition, circular and rectangular video projections on walls feature close-ups of a red lantern swaying in the wind, rainwater dripping off the eaves of an old house, and medium shots of a man harvesting snails with his rake at sunrise, and a tai chi master practicing his art early in the morning.

Accompanying the pastoral images is a diverse array of interwoven sounds. These include whistles, melodious singing, thundering cranes, rush of water and regular drum beats.

The artist shot the footage from the balcony of her riverside studio. "Each time I begin a project, I try not to have an exact idea of what I will do. Instead, I figure out what to do by listening to people's stories, reading, spending time in the area, drawing and taking video," she said. "Everything is new to me, so the world around me is big and often confusing."



In her view, the rivers in Zhujiajiao not only have visual beauty, but also serve as public waterways for the surrounding communities. "Teahouses, restaurants, parks, as well as private homes line these waterways, and are always filled with people whose lives are nourished by the different uses of the water, as well as by the pleasure it gives them," she said.

Also on show at the exhibition are collages of paintings of rivers, featuring a wide range of colors mixed into blurry, abstract images.


The works about Zhujiajiao are part of her River Fugues projects, a series of site-specific installations themed on different rivers throughout the US since 2003. Each of the river projects is based on her research including reading, interviews and video recordings made during her travels.

While her recording process resembles that of a filmmaker, Cogswell draws inspiration from composers in editing her materials. In her projects, she utilizes the musical structure of a fugue to weave together different components. She said she uses the musical form due to its flexibility as a framework, into which any set of components can be easily integrated.


Through her works, Cogswell draws the public's attention to some oft-overlooked issues. Among them is Ashokan Fugues, a new project which addresses New York's water supply and its relationship with the Catskill Watershed.

The work incorporates audio and video recordings of interviews with people in New York and the Catskill Watershed area. It shows sympathy to those who lost their homes due to the building of the Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies 90 percent of the drinking water for New York.

New York-based artist Margaret Cogswell's series of water-related drawings and mixed media installations are on display at Zenda Zhujiajiao Art Museum. Photos: Courtesy of the artist

"Despite the fact that NYC's (New York City) water comes from its Catskills' neighbors at a great sacrifice by communities displaced to build reservoirs, I am aware that the average New Yorker has little knowledge of this," Cogswell said. "Ashokan Fugues emerges as an elegy to those whose sacrifice for New York City's water supply remains unsung."

The title of each project on display includes the name of the rivers, such as Cuyahoga Fugues, Hudson River Fugues, and Mississippi River Fugues. Each project took two to five years to complete.

Date: Until November 25, 10 am to 6 pm (closed Mondays)

Venue: Zenda Zhujiajiao Art Museum


Address: 222 North Street, Zhujiajiao Ancient Town


Admission: Free

Call 5924-3133 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Art, Culture

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