Topographics in Pursuit of Spirit: A Month Spent Getting to Know the Providence River (2017)

February 4 – 25, 2017      

AS220 Reading Room, Providence, RI

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Here’s a reflective essay that I wrote around the first anniversary of this project, on Medium.

In conjunction with Denyse M. Wilhelm and James Ari Montford’s In Loving Memory.

AS220 gallery webpage: https://as220.org/february-gallery-exhibitions/

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This project took as its subject the upper harbor of the Providence River and its environs.  With it, I aimed to bring attention, and train my own attention, to some of the ways that primordial landscape features, like rivers, become enmeshed in human systems, including cities, and how the two co-determine each other across space and time.   

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Topographics was also an inquiry into whether and in what ways my embodied knowledge of the place and its formalized representations might intersect.

It was also a meditation on the city and the waterways from which it springs.  

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The principal components included:

 

WATER, drawn from the river’s eastern bank, parallel to South Water Street.    

A FIELD JOURNAL, archived hererecording my almost-daily visits to the waterfront throughout the month of January 2017.   All entries were logged from a linear park on the eastern river bank, parallel to South Water Street, most from beneath a willow tree beside a boat ramp.  They detail my sensory experience of the place, subject to a range of endogenous and exogenous conditions.  

SOUND RECORDINGS, still accessible here, from my visits to the waterfront.  There are twenty-two recordings in all, each approximately fifteen minutes long, the oldest from January 2nd and the most recent from January 30th.  In the project space, they were played chronologically, oldest to newest, in a five-and-a-half-hour loop.  Volume level could be adjusted up or down.  

AND MAPS, mostly urban planning and data maps, of the river and its surroundings.  These ran across the gallery walls, left to right, in reverse chronological order.  The displayed images were cropped in such a way that most legends, keys and other explanatory elements were purposefully absent.  However, a book of source materials was provided for anyone who wished to see the maps as originally published, along with a selection of related excerpts from the same publications.   

It should be noted that urban development along the Providence River was originally spurred in great measure by the Atlantic triangular trade.  Were it not for the institution of slavery, therefore, the port-rich colonial city might have never risen.

 

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SOURCE MATERIALS

chronologically ordered and displayed on exhibit walls by set as shown below

SET A
I-195 Redevelopment Parcels / Providence Waterfront Park (2014)THE LINK I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. “I-195 Redevelopment Parcels / Providence Waterfront Park (PDF).” June 30, 2014. Accessed January 2017. http://www.gcpvd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/195-parks-june2014-west.pdf. second PDF detailing East Park: http://www.gcpvd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/195-parks-june2014-east.pdf.
Providence River Pedestrian Bridge: Public Meeting (2014)Rhode Island Department of Transportation and City of Providence Department of Planning and Development. Providence River Pedestrian Bridge: Public Meeting (PDF). Providence, RI: City of Providence, 2014.  Accessed January 2017.  http://www.providenceri.com/efile/5721.

 

SET B
I-195 Old Harbor Plan 1992William D., Warner, Architects and Planners. I-195 Old Harbor Plan 1992. Exeter, RI: William D. Warner, 1992.
The Providence Waterfront, 1636-2000 (1985)William D., Warner, Architects and Planners and Providence Waterfront Study. The Providence Waterfront, 1636-2000. Exeter, RI: William D. Warner, 1985.
Providence Waterfront Study (1984)William D., Warner, Architects and Planners. Providence Waterfront Study. Providence, RI: William D. Warner Architects, 1984.
Draft Summary : Providence Waterfront Proposal and Plans (1984)

William D., Warner, Architects and Planners. Draft Summary : Providence Waterfront Proposal and Plans. Exeter, RI: William D. Warner, 1984.
Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to the Providence Waterfront :

Three Centuries of Commerce (1983)

Janson, Patrick and William McKenzie Woodward. Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to the Providence Waterfront : Three Centuries of Commerce. Providence, RI: Providence Preservation Society and Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1983.

 

SET C
Providence Harbor: A Special Area Management Plan (1984)Donald G. Robadue Jr. and Coastal Resources Center Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Providence Harbor: A Special Area Management Plan, (Rhode Island: Coastal Resources Management Council, 1984).

 

SET D

Interface: Providence (1974)

Howes et. al., Gerald. Interface: Providence. Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design, 1974.

 

SET E
Proposed Redevelopment Plan for the East Side Project No. R.I.R-4 (1966)Providence Redevelopment Agency. Proposed Redevelopment Plan for the East Side Project No. R.I.R-4. Providence, RI: Providence Redevelopment Agency, 1966.
Downtown Providence, 1970 : A Demonstration of Citizen Participation in Comprehensive Planning (1959-1961)Providence City Plan Commission and Sponsoring agencies and Walter H. Reynolds, Downtown Providence, 1970 : A Demonstration of Citizen Participation in Comprehensive Planning, (Providence, RI: Sentry Offset Service, 1961).

 

SET F
Port of Providence: An Economic Survey (1955)Rhode Island Development Council and Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton. Port of Providence: An Economic Survey. Providence, RI: RIDC, 1955.