Curated by Arin Fay
Using art as a visual and narrative critical tool, River Relations investigates the ecological and social impact of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. The fourteen dams, in BC, Washington and Oregon are heralded for massive energy production and economic benefits; however, they have incurred environmental costs and impacted the lives of many in the surrounding watershed regions. These issues are prominent in the current debates around watershed governance between the US and Canada. Potential renegotiations, as well as recent approval for other large hydro-electric projects in British Columbia, have brought charged discussions of the complex impact of dams to public attention. Understanding effects brought on by dam construction will help shape decisions regarding the kinds of futures citizens want to build around shared watersheds.
The project, funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), explores how artistic work might be a means to interpret complex and long-term environmental and social issues related to the damming of the Columbia River. As a team of artists, writers and a geographer, they have put together an exhibition of artworks created in response to our ongoing investigations of the dams of the Columbia River in Canada and the United States. Their research ranges from photographs found in the Nelson Museum archives to hydrological depictions of future water flows–comparing past imagery and other archival materials to contemporary imagery gathered from documentation and research. Approaching the dams as both cultural phenomena and as a metaphor for large-scale intervention into nature, their project explores aesthetic responses as a means to reflect the character, cultural significance and diverse ecology of the Columbia River landscape over time. It considers the Columbia River an elemental force with agency and power, rather than simply a natural resource to be utilized. A central theme is the struggle to comprehend the implications of human constructions that drastically alter ecological rhythms, whether micro or macro in scale. This project contributes to conversations about the effects of dam construction by producing creative work that provides critical, nuanced and evocative entry points for public engagement.
River Relations Interdisciplinary Research Team: Matthew Evenden, Rita Wong, Fred Wah, Nick Conbere, John Holmgren, Genevieve Robertson, Emmy Willis, Zoe Kostuchuk