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A River, a Bank, and a Sense of Place
CHESTERTOWN, MD—What happens when four highly creative and accomplished women take over a grand bank building in a historic river town and are given free rein to fill it with sound, light, projected imagery and movement?
The SANDBOX initiative at Washington College invites the public to find out April 15-17 when it presents “WaterLines: RiverBank,” a one-time installation and performance by the 2015 SANDBOX Distinguished Visitors.
Architect/artist Ronit Eisenbach, choreographer Cassie Meador, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and biologist/conceptual artist Jeni Wightman are transforming the vacant Chestertown Bank building at 211 High Street into an immersive art experience that reflects the town’s river setting and cultural history.
Eisenbach, an associate professor of architecture at University of Maryland and curator of the school’s Kibel Gallery, serves as artistic director for WaterLines. She promises a “sonic, luminous, interactive” environment that fuses art with science and social history, and incorporates the bank’s impressive lobby and vault. “When you step into the banking hall you step into a space that heightens sensation and is at once expansive, enveloping and, perhaps, disorienting,” she says. “It contrasts with the vault, where spaces are intimate, detailed and compressed.”
Expect surprises, she adds. “Each artists’s contribution adds another layer of meaning and richness, resulting in a work filled with unexpected and wonderful juxtapositions. We want to spark shared reflection about ‘place as a work in progress,’ and our impact on our surroundings—Chestertown and the Chester River in particular.”
The installation will be open to the public each evening from 7:30 to 9:30. On Thursday night at 8:00, a dance performance will include a procession from the bank to the river’s edge at the end of High Street. There will no seating provided for the event, which is designed as a walking experience. (That day, April 16, at 9:30 a.m., the artists invite the public to join them for a water-collecting ceremony.)
“I think it will have the feel of a purifying ritual,” says Alex Castro, director of SANDBOX. “It’s guaranteed to be a memorable evening. These artists are so talented, and they’ve responded with a lot of excitement and energy to Chestertown, the river and the bank building. We are in for a special treat.”
The three April evenings are the culmination of months of creative brainstorming and planning, with smaller events along the way. In November, choreographer Meador, who is the artistic director of Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, joined with colleague Matthew Cumbie to lead one of Dance Exchange’s signature “Moving Field Guides,” which connect participants more intimately to nature and place, for a group of Washington College students, along with several professors and community members. Some of these participants will go on to perform in “WaterLines: RiverBank.” “They will bring to life stories of what they value most about the past, present, and future of the Chester River and the communities that surround it,” says Meador.
Wightman, an environmental scientist and consultant with advanced degrees in cell biology, took mud and water samples from four areas of the Chester—Foreman’s Branch, Eastern Neck Island, Radcliffe Creek, and the Town Waterfront—and created local versions of her ever-changing bacteria paintings. These living artworks grow more beautiful and complex by the day as the microbes in frame-enclosed mud metabolize their environment and synthesize pigments. Images of the works, which are on display at the SANDBOX gallery space at 107 Cross Street through April, will be incorporated into the “River Bank” installation.
Composer Vrebalov, who writes music for internationally known performance artists, created WaterLines 1, an 8-minute work of electronic music to accompany Wightmans’s mud paintings. For the culminating work, she composed WaterLines2, an atmospheric and multi-layered piece made from recordings of people and nature she captured during her visits to Chestertown. Vrebalovand Eisenbach are designing the sonic installation in the bank to envelop listeners with sound as they move around the space.
Throughout the creative process, Eisenbach has served as director, envisioning how the elements can work together to create a powerful environment for “WaterLines: RiverBank.” Although the earliest proposals for the SANDBOX collaboration imagined an installation outdoors by the river, Eisenbach knew that everything could change as the creative process unfolded and the artists came to know the community. When she first peered in the glass doors of the Chestertown Bank building (which most recently served as a branch of PNC Bank and is now owned by KRM Real Estate), she was struck by its grandeur and the creative possibilities for the space.
She says it was Vrebalov’s idea to ask KRM about using the bank space for the installation. Now, Eisenbach says, “rather than starting at the river, the work references water and the river in many ways and explores the relationships, exchanges and tensions between the natural and built environments.”
SANDBOX, Washington College’s initiative for interdisciplinary collaboration merging art and science, was created in 2013 with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It supports works and projects focused on the environment. “WaterLines: RiverBank” is one of many special events marking Chestertown’s celebration of Earth Stewardship Days throughout the month of April. For the complete schedule of events: http://chestertownriverarts.org/events/earth-stewardship-days/