Gila Collective participates in Santa Fe Art Institute 2016-2017 Water Rights Residency

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Gila Collective Participates in  Santa Fe Art Institute 2016 – 2017 Water Rights Residency

In August 2017, the Gila Collective participated in the Water Rights Residency Program of the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) for 2016 – 2017.  The four-person team, comprised of painter and video artist Peter Bill, new media artist Stephen Dirkes, potter and animator Kate Brown, and Gila Conservation Coalition executive director Allyson Siwik, will explore the idea of equity in our water systems.

According to SFAI, the residency program “encourages creative minds to come together and examine the territory of Water Rights. Together, we will explore several questions: How do we describe and define the contested space around water? If water use is often parallel to culture, how can cultural activities result in greater models of equity in our water systems? How can diverse practices, from poetic to practical to political, create greater access to these and other parallel resources?” 

Responding to the Water Rights Residency theme, the Gila Collective’s project asks: if we were to give voice to the voiceless – rivers, non-human organisms, future generations, our cultural heritage, and disempowered indigenous and low-income communities – what would those voices tell us about water?  The project intends to reconnect people to water as the source of life through an immersive video experience that uses all of the senses to engage participants in this exploration by questioning our relationship to water and encouraging us to move toward an equitable sharing of our scarce water resources.

“Through our art, we’re trying to get people out of the hustle and bustle of every day life and to make them pause and think about what is happening in our world,” said Gila Collective member Peter Bill. “Are we leaving our grandchildren and great grand children enough water for the future? Are we putting systems in place that ensure that there are healthy rivers? Are we respecting the rights of indigenous and low-income communities and other species to have clean water in sufficient supply to survive? Our art will challenge our audience to answer these critical questions.”

The Gila Collective is comprised of four artists and activists who have worked individually and collectively to address issues of water use and misuse.

A painter and video artist, Peter Bill’s work both inspires and provokes. His murals and video works typically involve local communities in their conception and realization. Formerly Assistant Professor of New Media at Western New Mexico University, Bill has worked with street artists in Juarez to address border issues, and has brought their work to the U.S. to exhibit. The Gila River and the fight to protect it have been a focus of Bill’s collaborative work over the past three years and has included curating of the Gila River Three-Minute Film Fest, Gila Time-lapse Film Fest, Gila River Festival art exhibit, as well as creation of the video performance piece “Gila Immersion” and a number of short videos and documentaries.

Stephen Dirkes has been exploring multi-media/immersive/new media art for several decades. He has had extensive classical music composition study and currently works as a composer in New York City. After several years of composing for theatre, dance and film, he became involved with film making and narrative and non-narrative story telling.  Dirkes has worked extensively with Peter Bill to explore aspects of landscape and nature in immersive art installation, exhibitions and films. Exploration that embraces traditional painting, time lapse, stop motion, still photography, scent, sound, music and film informs our artist language and broadens our reach of creative communication. In 2015, he founded an “art centric” perfume house, Euphorium Brooklyn, with the ambition of exploring olfaction to incorporate this powerful and enigmatic sense in his multi-media creations.  Dirkes and Bill collaborated with the Gila Conservation Coalition to create “Gila Cycle – Tableaux Olfactif” multimedia installation that leverages creative expression to facilitate a “call to action” to protect the Gila River watershed.

Kate Brown is a master of slip-decorated, clear-glazed terra cotta ware, creating patterns that reflect her life in the foothills near the Gila wilderness: plants, animals, sky and human forms, bold and loose. During a sabbatical in 2001, she returned to school to study animation at Evergreen State College. To date she has created five animated short films: Ursa Dream, (2005) and Human Thing (2007), Fire Season (2013), First Light (2014), Gila River: Up Against the Wall (2015). She took possession of an antique Oxberry Animation Stand, and has spent the past five years on its restoration and updating. She creates under-the-camera, hand-made animations in her wilderness animation studio, Fundamentalist Flowerchild Productions.

Allyson Siwik is an environmental advocate based in Silver City, NM.  Serving as the director of the Gila Resources Information Project and Gila Conservation Coalition, she works to protect groundwater from pollution caused by copper mining in Grant County and advocates for conservation of the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river.  A co-founder of the annual Gila River Festival, Siwik has collaborated with artists, writers, scientists, policy experts and activists to create events and experiences that provide opportunities for understanding and appreciating the importance of protecting our water resources and natural environment. Siwik has 25 years of experience in environmental protection, including 12 years with the US Environmental Protection Agency. She has worked extensively with communities locally, regionally and along the U.S.-Mexico border to identify and resolve environmental problems.

The Gila Collective presented its Water Rights Residency project, RIVER VOICE TIME, at the 13th Annual Gila River Festival in September 21 – 24, 2017.