a river laboratory/playground to explore our sense of belonging

The River Runs project investigates movement in artistic practice towards less tangible and more complex spaces of public/private contestation, spaces that challenge the notion of belonging itself. Developed as a river laboratory/playground during residency at Modern Art Oxford (2012) project explores how river (and water) as a public good operates to define our sense of belonging on an individual and collective scale. The work examines where and how a public sphere, or “publicness,” can be constituted today, and the role of artistic intervention in its production.

For this project, Urbonas Studio consists of artists Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, writer/curator Tracey Warr and architect/designer Giacomo Castagnola.

The project is being assisted too by many other people, living, working, playing on and in the river, cropping up in the course of the narrative . Most of the research files are collected during August 2012 while at Project Space Residency, Modern Art Oxford, UK.

More at project’s blog: http://www.vilma.cc/river

River Runs brings together a small group of people working in different disciplines to discuss rivers from a range of perspectives. Rivers shape us and we shape rivers. A consideration of the future of rivers raises a host of issues including their impacts on human quality of life and well-being, water quality for drinking and swimming, water shortages, rising water levels, climate change and climate justice, public access, biomimicry solutions, aquatic wildlife and habitats, river-based leisure, sport and transport and more.

The space at Modern Art Oxford is converted into a lab for editing footage and texts, writing, screening, exhibiting, holding public discussions both in the gallery and floating talks to create an archive, a library of films and texts of river experience and relationship asking the public to contribute their own river stories: local artist who lives on a boat, river historian, expert in river wildlife/plant life, human geographer, water expert, boat builder, tourist boat operator, leisure rower, climate scientist, group of children, group of teenagers, group of elderly local people, deaf, blind rower and wild swimmer…



During the residency at Modern Art Oxford we are studying river cultures that situate either life or research “at”, “with”, “for” and “on” the river. On the basis of that research we are developing a design for a wearable device that would allow one to sense the environment. Not only acoustic but wider sensorial concerns are addressed, including sense of gravity, weight, motion, temperature. On the other hand it is not only perceptual, phenomenological device, but also a social playground where the public culture can be exercised.

Partially this project draws its inspiration form the Charles River project conceived by Kepes at CAVS (1972) that addressed environmental citizenship in the context of inhumane scale of industrial and urban damage that took place in American cities during 50′ies and 60′ies. Kepes saw potential of art to mitigate that damage. Today we are exposed to the ecological catastrophe and collapse of ecosystems, so for the River Runs project it is essential to model situations that could predict and envision survival in the hypotetical Water Age.

Some proposed and never-realized idea-scenarios comprised the starting point of our research work, grounded in an interest to render agencies that move towards the “civic and environmental” as forms that resonate and reflect Kepes’s ethics. Aiming to produce a proposal for an intervention on a “civic scale,” we started from examining the history of interventions to the Charles River, be they industrial, military, scientific, pedagogical, or artistic. We were looking for projects that embraced the “environmental” and what was suggested by Kepes as the “civic” dimension of art. We were looking for speculative forms that try to question the “contemporary democratic Tivoli.”