The culmination of over two years of research and development, Rivers was a durational sculpture commissioned by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based – The Drift – which took place from August 1 2016 to August 9 2016. The sculpture was composed of nine precisely determined actions engaging specific locations, objects and people in defined temporal and spatial proximity within Pittsburgh’s Three River System.
In the work, ‘river’ exists both as a literal manifestation, but also as a spectre framing each action inside a set of cascading mythological, archeology, historical and geological conditions. “River’ exists expansively as both a subject weighted with associations, use values and politics, but also an object wholly unknowable to us – a form of alien complexity vastly superseding our limits of understanding.
All actions of Rivers existed (and in some cases continue to exist) in public, some produced without notice and others with direct invitation to the public. Each action was preceded by an announcement, some containing precise details of when and where the actions took place.
The actions were as follows:
001 a human bone inserted inside a boulder on the banks of the Allegheny River
002 an arrangement of cut flowers delivered to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey
003 a human hand making contact with the 30” Thaw Refractor telescope at the Allegheny Observatory
004 a human hand making contact with the JEOL JEM 1400 Transmission Electron Microscope at the Center for Biologic Imaging
005 a small bonfire on the banks of the Allegheny with driftwood compiled from around the world
006 the 1818 book The Navigator, gifted and entered into the collection of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Mt. Washington Branch
007 a rainbow produced over the Allegheny River for 500 seconds
008 a piece of lead recovered from a sunken 17th century sailing vessel, melted and cast into a handrail on an abandoned speedboat on the Monongahela
009 a text message sent from a remote location to a satellite phone at the confluence of the Ohio River
Spaced over consecutive days, McKean’s choreographed actions were concerned not only with the outward optics produced by an event, but in their hidden from view, realist and materialist ramifications: the hyperbolic release of energy and carbon into the atmosphere produced from burning a chunk of wood, or sunlight racing toward the earth in precise syncopation with an individual’s gaze toward water droplets momentarily producing a rainbow, or a book added to a public library’s collection displacing a small but real amount of space from the building’s internal volume.
Rivers was devised as an artwork, but more broadly as an ‘ethic’ or ‘technology’ for developing more sensitized interactions with objects, in the process endowing them with newfound capacities and agency. The form of Rivers builds a dense, at times kaleidoscopic meshwork of contact points with people, places, things and events, honing a set of brief encounters where time-space distances can swirl, stagger, collapse within the fortified space of the artwork. For McKean, the work continues to encourage a process with emancipatory ambitions through which more empathic approaches to bodies in the fullest, most diverse and most speculative sense of the term can be explored.
McKean, speaking of the process:
“Rivers imagines a set of parallel worlds where all matter-energy is flowing at different velocities, fidelities and intensities toward a more complex registration: sub atomic particles, molecules, substances, materials, earthbound objects and celestial bodies can freely combine, graft, decay, transmute, but ultimately optimize into a new, more complex morphological orders. Working on the project, I began conceiving of the river form as a sentient body, an intelligence, actively reorienting itself toward its most complex state – an omega point compressing countless lived and unlived realties. The project actualizes a small subset of these outlying realities – actions that exist simultaneously inside the internal safety logic of the artwork, but also troll within our lived-in world as wholly unrepresented, unperformed realities. However small and incomprehensible to us in the moment, these nine interlocking actions have catalytic intensity capable of charting stranger realities that cannot be reversed, only built upon…”
Rivers was developed through a residency at the Frank Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, and made possible by the generous support of the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The project is produced with support and goodwill of many individuals and institutions including: The Center for Biologic Imaging, The Allegheny Observatory, The Mount Washington Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carly Smittle and Reggie Wilkins, Laila Archuleta, Christine Davis Consultants and many others.