Deep Waters, Thin Places: Installation by Erin Fussell

Deep Waters, Thin Places | Installation

By Erin Fussell

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Introduction by Erin Fussell

“In deep water” is an idiom that means “to be in trouble” or refers to going out into the unknown or “deep end.”

“Thin places” comes from a Celtic proverb that says the space between Heaven and Earth is only three feet high, a thin place where one gets a glimpse of both worlds and a new perspective.

Embudo Dam
Embudo Dam.
Photo by Erin Fussell

“Deep Waters, Thin Places” grew out of my discovery that Embudo Dam is a fantastic site for exploring creativity. The dam sits in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Situated in a public park with hiking trails, the dam is part of the city’s larger flood control system. It’s a hybrid space: not exactly urban, not exactly natural.

Installation video: corner projection, rocks, wood sculptures.

The flood control surrounding Albuquerque is part of our cultural landscape, so regular that we cease to see it while we live here comfortably in a desert flood zone. But sooner or later, we will have to reconfigure our entire infrastructure system for sustainability in the age of climate change. I imagine Embudo Dam as an urban monument or contemporary ruin.

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Cultural geographer and landscape scholar J. B. Jackson wrote that there is no inherent character of a space; it’s in how we use it. With that idea in mind, I explore the site as a creative space, taking cues from its current alternative uses. I see it as:

  • a space to think or explore
  • a stage
  • an echo sound chamber
  • a place to come of age, where teenagers break bottles and have their first kiss
  • a metaphor for an internal state of being (we build “flood control systems” within ourselves to live in the world)

HD video, 2017

To show this space and express these ideas, I created several works for an exhibit in March at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque. I made five lithographic visual scores based on engineering plans for the dam that I received from a municipal engineer. Performers then interpreted these visual scores on site. Each score, acting like a diagram or map, has a movement shape, a reference to location, and a wash that represents the flood. I then recorded all of the improvisational performances with my camera and heavily edited the video for a choreographed experience of the work. This video gives some idea of the scale and perspective shifts of the site.

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Another piece in the show is a sound composition video. The “instruments” are seven glass jars filled with varying amounts of water so that each jar has a different pitch. At various intervals, a disembodied hand reaches from behind the jars and rotates them, grating the glass against the concrete of the dam, building tension. The piece demonstrates how the dam acts like an amphitheater, echoing the sound around the canyon. Toward the end, rushing water bursts over the screen for 20 seconds and then the composition with jars begins again. This sound video is shown on a monitor mounted on a wall of the gallery, while a pile of clear, broken glass sits on the floor to the side of the screen. One could imagine the tension building and then releasing as though the glasses in the video might eventually shatter. The sound is amplified by speakers so that it acts as the soundtrack for the entire gallery space.

Sound composition with water and seven jars, HD video, 24″ monitor (2017)

The dominating work in the installation is the flood piece, seen above, near the beginning of this text. A large projected video depicts rushing, frothy water that seems to flow over two walls in a corner of the gallery, with the shadows of two sculptures on the gallery’s floor referencing the shape of the dam. These sparsely constructed wooden sculptures echo the dam’s construction but the water washes over and through them. Viewers can play with their own shadows by moving around within the light coming from the projector. The work is simultaneously calming and disorienting as the water rushes over and over to the sound of the jars grating against the concrete. The opening of the floodgates (as seen in the jars video) asks viewers to “let it go,” whatever that may imply to them.

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Each piece is a way to engage with the gallery space, see the Embudo Dam or other infrastructure in a new light, and think metaphorically about our daily environment. How do we navigate the liminal spaces in our daily lives? As the architect of your own inner landscape, when do you exercise control and when do you let it go?

About the Artist

Erin FullerErin Fussell makes interdisciplinary artwork using landscape and the body. She investigates her internal and external landscapes to bring the experiential undertow into the seen, heard, and felt. Intuition and daily experience drive the artist’s process. She often includes partners in the making, both human and non-human, like the wind or insects.

Born in Ventura, California, raised in Portland, Oregon, and well-traveled, Fussell knows how place shapes memory. Through relationships, research, writing, engaging in the environment, and active listening, she cultivates self-awareness and a sense of place in a way that transforms perspective and observes how her perspective shifts over time. The resulting work communicates what she discovers about navigating the liminal spaces of everyday life.

Her work has been shown internationally, notably: Soundart Radio (Totnes, United Kingdom), Supplement Space (Seoul, Korea), Abetenim Arts Village (Ashanti Region, Ghana), Center on Contemporary Art (Seattle, Washington), and Tamarind Institute and SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico.

She is a researcher at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, recipient of an Albuquerque Public Art grant, and alumni SITE Scholar at SITE Santa Fe.

Find more of Erin’s work at erinfussell.com.

Header image: from the video “Jars,” Deep Waters, Thin Places, by Erin Fussell.

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