Mississippi River Fugues
University of Memphis Art Museum
September 6th - November 1st, 2008
Mississippi River Fugues is a site-specific installation created for a solo exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis in fall 2008. Framing the main installation, the viewer walks through the entry space of the museum surrounded by voices of cotton farmers, river guides, levee supervisors and others telling their stories by the light of candles seen lit on the screens of portable dvd players embedded within hurricane lanterns suspended throughout the space.
The larger component of Mississippi River Fugues was inspired by the discovery of an 18th century drawing showing an early concept of a "machine dredger" powered by men in squirrel wheel cages, an image which lodged in my mind as a symbol of our Sisyphean efforts to control nature, and in turn the mighty Mississippi. Propelled by this absurd invention, Mississippi River Fugues became an installation taking the viewer into a darkened museum gallery where, dwarfed by giant squirrel wheels and buoys, one's experience is akin to being in the river instead of on its banks. Inside the giant wheels (standing 15 and 20 feet high), are video projections of a man running endlessly on a treadmill, seemingly powering the movement of the wheel as he runs. Instead of beacons of light, each of the five buoys (6 to 14 feet high) houses a video projector in the top section which, while oscillating 90 degrees, throws video images across the surrounding walls. The five video projections weave together to form a visual fugue exploring the haunting history, poignant beauty and delicate balance found in the interdependence of the lives of people in the Delta, the cotton industry and the Mississippi River.