Curatorial Statement

Our theme for Indie Grits 2016 is Waterlines.

Celebrating ten years of Indie Grits, we wanted to highlight Columbia’s defining feature–the lines of water coursing through our city built on rivers. Those broad and deep imprints have long shaped the community’s culture and development.

But in early October of 2015, those rivers took a violent and unexpected turn. After historic rainfall, man-made dams failed, water lines streaked unexpectedly across urban landscapes, and we saw our neighbors’ homes submerged, our community changed overnight. Rivers swelled over banks and tore over what Columbia had built, leaving debris and fresh soil in its wake. The October floodwaters inflicted a trauma that is still ongoing.

This event has given new meaning to our city’s relationship with water and directly affected our original vision for Indie Grits on the River. Changing our original concept, we gathered a group of local and regional artists to explore these new relationships with our waterways and assist with the healing of our strong community. This group of artists formed Waterlines and was challenged to create new works in film, performance, transmedia, and public art, all commissioned by the Nickelodeon Theatre.

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The artists were encouraged to collaborate with each other from the beginning. During almost a dozen meetings going back to October, the Waterlines artists came together to share their own experiences of the flood, hear stories from community members, review photographs and other documents, and ask questions of professionals with first-hand knowledge of the flood and its impact.

The Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler has been a regular fixture at Waterlines meetings and an invaluable resource, connecting us with community members and offering us first hand tours of our waterways.

Photojournalist Sean Rayford gave a special presentation sharing his personal experiences documenting the flood with his prolific archive of photos.

While the artists met, Luke Hodges and a team of students from Trident Technical College in Charleston scoured the web for social media materials documenting the statewide flood and assembled an archive of more than a thousand photos and videos gathered from YouTube, Vine, Instagram and more. The archive has been used as a tool for discovery and education and has provided a wealth of materials for projects.

The artists’ collaboration has yielded more than a dozen new works. These works, in almost every case, have pushed artists to work outside their comfort zones. Their collective efforts forced them to respond to the flood and its aftermath in ways that led to new discoveries both personally and within their artistic processes.

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Moving Pictures: Film

The flood touched Indie Grits Filmmaker-in-Residence, Joshua Yates, in a very direct way, as he had to rescue friends from a nearby cabin at around 5:00am on October 4 during the storm.

That experience compelled him to begin collecting stories from people affected by the flood across the state. Yates recorded audio interviews with flood survivors and cataloged their oral histories, which he will soon be donating to the USC Libraries’ Office of Oral History.

Yates’ film Underbelly Up is an experimental, autobiographical document that synthesizes those interviews with improvisational dialogue and hand-processed 16mm celluloid, creating a surreal, emotional dreamscape exploring loss, trauma, and the construction of memory.

Facing the vestiges of a tumultuous year in South Carolina, Roni Nicole Henderson is exploring the connections between more than one tragedy that struck our state last year.

Her short film break{through} attempts to map these recent emotional memories through South Carolina’s major waterways and the bodies of nine dancers, honoring the nine victims of the Charleston church massacre.

Created in collaboration with choreographer Kwame A. Ross and composer Venecia Flowers, the film begins at the Emanuel AME Church in the “Holy City” and travels to Columbia with its confluence of rivers. Stopping to visit sites of flood trauma, the film is an attempt to help the state heal from all of its recent devastation.

Inspired almost entirely by the Waterlines archive, Steve Daniels constructs a narrative by reconstituting found footage and family photos. Set to an aural landscape inspired by pulpy, Old Time Radio horror tales, his film Maggot is a fictional story of a teenager who enters a strange, semi-submerged house in a flooded river, and discovers hundreds of photographs floating inside. After taking some of the photos, the boy soon goes missing.

Also exclusively using archival footage, Lydia Pappas of USC Moving Image Research Collections is creating a film titled Film on the Water. Through the lens of MIRC’s varied collections and a plethora of footage covering waterways around the Midlands, Lydia is looking at the effect of humans on the water, as well as the water’s potential to enrich or devastate lives.


Immersive Experiences: Video Installation

Once classes resumed following the flood, filmmaker and USC instructor OK Keyes took immediate action tasking cinematography students to create experimental short films about the flood and its impact inspired by the haiku poetry of Matsuo Bashō.

As they begin to rise again
Chrysanthemums faintly smell,
After the flooding rain.

Rather than finding dark clouds and still swollen waterways, however the students found beautiful skies in the weeks following the flood.

Merging the two–the darkness of the flood and the light that followed–is After the flooding rain, a multi-channel, interactive video installation created by Keyes’ students. Using projections of underwater footage, the piece creates the experience of being submerged. As viewers navigate the space, immersing themselves in the darker water, their movements trigger the brighter, more lyrical videos made after the flood. The abstract vignettes symbolize an attempt to interrupt the waters, just as the waters interrupted Columbia.

After the storm, filmmaker Wade Sellers found himself helping neighbors by doing what he does best. Using the means of his local production company, he went to the homes of people affected by the flood to record video and photograph property loss and damages. The images would help the residents prove their losses in insurance claims.

Struck by the experience, Sellers later returned to the homeowners to interview them about the flood at the site of their loss.

In Anatomy of a Flood, a three-way video installation, Sellers immerses the viewer in first hand testimonials interwoven with archival educational and news footage, and a new, narrative film of a scientist explaining the phases of the flood. To the viewer’s left and right, projected images of rising water recreate the immediacy of the flood experience so many shared.


Captured in Still: Photography

Front and center, Jorge Intriago, photojournalist for the S.C. National Guard and a photo student at USC, photographed the flood and the Guard’s response, as more than 4,000 members answered the call to help their communities.

They took to the waters and the air to document the flood response from the first day of rain through the end of the recovery efforts. For Waterlines, photographs taken by Intriago and other public affairs guardsmen will be on display.

The flood also spread south to Charleston, a community that floods seemingly as often as the tide rises. The peninsula’s reaction to high water is a regular subject for Dorian Warneck, a street photographer in the city and maker of the Neighbors zine. Warneck’s contribution to Waterlines features a selection of photographs that focus on his city and its ability to live in and around the frequent flood waters.

Portrait photographer and gardener Michael Dantzler links plants and people in his project The Ark. The piece consists of paired photographs–on one side, images of plants that help prevent erosion in floodplains, and on the other, portraits of people in the community that neighbors turned to for help during the flood–who, like those plants to the ground beneath them, help hold the community together. His piece explores the resiliency of both humans and plants to endure the strong force of water.

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Taking the Stage: Performance Art

Actor and educator Shannon Ivey moved back to Columbia in early November, choosing a duplex in Forest Acres, one block from an area decimated by the October flooding. In her solo performance piece, Natural Disasters of the Human Kind, Ivey gets personal. “I have a waterline. It’s on my body. It’s my C Section scar,” she writes in a description of her piece, which explores change, grief, resiliency, pregnancy and gender. The performance blends monologue, found sound recordings and movement playing on the metaphor of a waterline as a physical reminder of a personal flood.


Unlocking the Data: Interactive Works

Diving into data and building mathematical models helped some Waterlines artists tell stories of the flood. Some of those stories are dependent on viewer participation to come fully to life.

When the flood hit, much of the city was inaccessible. Dams burst, bridges failed and roads were impassible under pools of water. Pipes burst, tainting the drinking water supply. There was not much to do but wait for conditions to improve and resources to return to capacity.

In Water Me, a team of artists–Cecil Decker, Chris Johnson, Danny Oakes, James Owens and Michelle Skipper–recreate the experience of being shut in during the flood with a video game challenge. To win, the player must keep a plant alive–feeding the plant fresh water, not contaminated water from the tap. As days pass in the game, the player passes time watering the plant, listening to the radio and staring out the window.

Drawing heavily on audio clips from the Waterlines archive, musician Daniel Machado created a new musical composition that scales down the timeline of the flood into a ten minute audio piece. Within this structure, the piece explores textures and musical expressions that represent events that happened during the flood and the emotional state of the flood’s victims and bystanders. In an accompanying video projection, a SoundCloud timeline highlights key flood events as the composition unfolds.

Artist Jordan Young set out to portray the flood experience in sculptural, mathematical, and digital terms. In collaboration with fiber sculptor Susan Lenz and USC Professor of Mathematics Jerry Griggs, Young’s Flooded mines data and the flood archive to sculpturally chart how social media users documented their experiences of the flood. The piece is an attempt to show the hidden patterns underlying the collective experience of the flood. Viewers also will be able to navigate first-hand video accounts of the flood as an interactive element of the sculpture.

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In the Streets: Public Art

Some Waterlines artists were challenged to do work outdoors, activating public spaces in a way that would invite viewers to engage with our theme and encourage participation beyond the Indie Grits community.

This year’s Mural Artist-in-Residence Josef Kristofoletti will invoke our aesthetic preoccupation with, and complicity in, our own gradual destruction, using a building on Taylor Street as his canvas.

The piece will appropriate rainbow-like bands from chromatography–a process whereby the chemical components of a mixture are revealed through color in such a way that they recall ribbons of gasoline floating on water or the remnants of a chemical spill left on the sides of a building.

That waterline illustrates the devastating, contrary beauty of mass pollution and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the mural’s title, Tokamak, identifies a reason for hope: the same-named fusion reactor that some believe offers a solution to our long-standing dependence on fossil fuels.

Across from the Nickelodeon on Main Street, Lauren Greenwald’s piece Waterway combines archival footage from the last century and current videos to create an experiential depiction of our environment. The piece explores not only the natural waterways in the region, but man-made paths and routes created for water and the destructive floodplains of the recent natural disaster. Projected on the facade of a building, Greenwald’s piece explores South Carolina’s waterways and landscape, how we move through them, and the ephemeral quality of those movements.

Collaborative Storytelling: Waterlines Screening & Performance

Wanting to explore our theme’s potential influence on public health, USC Ph.D. student Jason Craig invited a group of artists, musicians, actors, activists, and community members to a series of weekend workshops. Laying bare their own experiences, the members of the workshop began exploring the possibilities that collective sharing presents to the health of a community.

The stories and relationships that emerged from those interactions formed the basis for a collaborative exhibition, a cooperative inquiry into self-care, both individual and communal. The resulting Waterlines Screening & Performance is an experimental, transmedia exhibition featuring storytelling, music, dance, song, poetry, film and more that presents viewers with a microcosm of the Waterlines experience.

After a year of stunning tragedies, new beginnings and shifting topographies in the state, Waterlines is our offering to you, an imaginative rethinking of the powerful natural symbols that have defined our community.

Seth Gadsden
Waterlines, curator and organizer