Opening August 3, 2022, at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (the Academy), Watershed Moment is a multi-faceted project featuring art and sound installations and an outdoor adventure walk revealing the critical importance of watersheds in our lives. The Academy engaged the Philadelphia-based New Paradise Laboratories to shape the creative approach. Presenting four experiences created by two collaborating artist teams responding to natural science and the physical properties of water as it moves through Philadelphia’s urban landscape, Watershed Moment enables a deeper understanding of the Lower Schuylkill River Watershed and an appreciation of watersheds in general.
The project — the first public art commission presented by the Academy — is the signature event of the institution’s yearlong Water Year 2022 celebration designed to connect people with their local waterways to inspire care and action to protect them. Watershed Moment has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
The four art installations of Watershed Moment are:
- Attunement, a monumental outdoor sound sculpture designed by David Gordonand fabricated by Jordan Griska;
- How to Get to the River, a 1.5-mile-long urban watershed art adventure walk that leads participants from the Academy’s front plaza where Attunement is sited, down the Cherry Street micro-shed to the Schuylkill River, culminating with Inside the Watershed;
- Inside the Watershed, a sound installation located inside a wooden arbor situated along the Schuylkill River Trail developed in collaboration with New Paradise Laboratories;
- The River Feeds Back, an immersive sound installation created by Annea Lockwood and Liz Phillips currently on view in the Academy’s Dietrich Gallery.
Academy Vice President of Experience and Engagement Marina McDougall said, “We should think of watersheds as our addresses, as defining the places that we call home. Watersheds are the areas of landscape that channel water as it falls from the atmosphere as snow or rain, flows through creeks and streams and across varied terrain ever seeking the lowest point as it moves to the sea. Contemplating watersheds sets in motion a wonderful set of connections that tie us to the places where we live — bioregions with unique ecologies defined by the presence or relative absence of water. Here in Philadelphia, we inhabit the riparian landscapes of the great Delaware River Watershed and the smaller watersheds that nest within the basin. Watershed Moment is a series of mind-altering experiences based in watershed thinking.”
Installed in front of the Academy museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Attunement (2022) is a large-scale sound sculpture designed by theatrical designer David Gordon in conjunction with the Philadelphia-based experimental theater New Paradise Laboratories. At 35 feet high, the work is inspired by the traditional Japanese garden ornament and music device suikinkitsu. Fabricated by Jordan Griska and constructed largely of recycled materials including an outsized funnel, agricultural cistern and sousaphone bells and employing irrigation technologies, Attunement captures the action of water droplets collecting and illustrates how water from the atmosphere transfers to larger bodies of water. It is a sonic translation of that process, thereby providing both a visual representation of watershed science and a naturally amplified sound experience.
How to Get to the River
How to Get to the River (2022) is an outdoor art adventure walk that invites participants to investigate elements of the Schuylkill River micro-shed, a section of the Delaware River Watershed. Commissioned by the Academy, the creative team of Pete Angevine, Laia and Whit MacLaughlin of New Paradise Laboratories worked with scientists from the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research to develop the urban walk. The research-based experience consists of a series of artistic installations and interventions — with sidewalk art, musical interludes, immersive sound experiences, creative signage, 2D art, sculpture, maps, lenticular imagery, playful interactions, and more — that together lead participants, physically and conceptually, to the river.
The walk begins at the Academy and takes participants on a 1.5-mile-long stroll down Cherry Street to the Schuylkill River, then brings the participants back. Participants will be guided by visual cues, trail blazes, sound installations, you-are-here maps, and imaginative signals to experience the urban watershed as a work of art in itself. Participants will activate sound elements with a digital fob as they become aware of evidence of water flow as it is imprinted on the cityscape, noticing how water is channeled from the atmosphere to the ground, across sloped roofs, through rain gutters, and into underground storm drains. A serpentine clarinet fugue performed by British composer Shabaka Hutchings will accompany the journey triggered by RFID (radio frequency identification).
Visitors are encouraged to return to How to Get to the River multiple times throughout the presentation of the exhibition as the experience is intended to change and evolve as sunlight, weather and the seasons change.
How to Get to the River Credits
Creative Team: Pete Angevine, Laia and Whit MacLaughlin
Research: Rohan Hejmadi and Salvador Plascencia
Composers and Interactive Sound Artists: Annea Lockwood and Liz Phillips
Musician: Shabaka Hutchings
Media and Sound: Greenhouse Media
Scenic and Sculptural Design: David Gordon
Fabrication: Jordan Griska
Illustrator: Tiffanie Young
Inside the Watershed
Inside the Watershed (2022) is a sound installation situated on the Schuylkill River Trail. The installation combines live sound and a composition created by Annea Lockwood, known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, and Liz Phillips, who combines audio and visual forms with new technologies to create interactive experiences. The project was developed by the artists in collaboration with New Paradise Laboratories. It delivers the live “voice” of the Schuylkill River through a series of underwater microphones, a motion-sensitive floating buoy, overhead speakers, and vibrations conducted into the listeners’ bodies through specially designed benches housed in a wooden arbor. It will be live from sunrise to sunset, seven days per week. Inside the Watershed is conceived as the culminating experience of How to Get to the River.
The River Feeds Back
Another collaboration by Lockwood and Phillips is The River Feeds Back (2022), a sensory experience and interactive exhibition bringing the deep sonic environment of the Schuylkill River Watershed to the surface. They recorded at Pennsylvania sites along 135 miles of the river, from its headwaters to its mouth, as well as its tributaries including Tulpehocken Creek, French Creek and Wissahickon Creek. The result is a layered sound map that captures glimpses of the river system above and below its surface including underwater life of aquatic insects, eels, fish and swirling currents.
The River Feeds Back — on view in the Academy’s Dietrich Gallery since June 1 — is experienced through a variety of listening portals. Benches, hollowed tree trunks and pieces of slate embedded with transducers (devices that translate electronic signals to sound waves of varying frequencies, some below the range of human hearing) provide a visceral experience of the river and transport listeners to the subaquatic worlds of the Schuylkill. A table in the gallery features a map of the Schuylkill that pinpoints the artists’ recording sites along the riverbanks in a tactile form.
About the Academy of Natural Sciences
Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is a leading natural history museum dedicated to informing and building a movement of environmentally engaged communities for a healthy, sustainable and equitable planet. Our mission is to understand the natural world and inspire everyone to care for it. Since its founding, the Academy has sponsored expeditions; conducted seminal systematics research; built an irreplaceable collection of 19 million biological specimens; led critical water and environmental research; transformed global understanding of freshwater ecology; and established a peerless natural history library and archive. The Academy has offered public education for more than two centuries and today welcomes thousands of visitors as a top cultural attraction in Philadelphia.