The Watershed Project
The Watershed Project uses innovative artistic strategies to take an in-depth look at the impact of climate change on the natural environment and the people, culture and traditions of St. Mary's County, MD, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
The Watershed Project
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of the most important natural resources in the United States, encompassing 150 major rivers and streams and serving as a home to over 17 million people. The watershed is a vital ecosystem, a beautiful natural environment and a regional economic engine. It’s also severely stressed by development and pollution and extremely vulnerable to climate change.
Several years ago, we joined with other artists of Atlantika Collective to consider what the Chesapeake Bay watershed means to the people who live there -- and how new visual approaches could illuminate their experiences of the region and its broader contemporary challenges. To accomplish this, we collaborated with local people in St. Mary's County -- a unique location where the Bay and its largest tributary, the Potomac River, converge. We considered the environmental, social, and cultural state of the watershed through a variety of artistic approaches, including photography, oral histories, video, and installation.
The Watershed Project was presented as a collaborative exhibition at the Boyden Gallery of St. Mary's College of Maryland, from October 18 to November 22, 2016. The exhibition responded to the complexity of lived experiences in the Chesapeake region by filtering these broad realities through many lenses: personal, poetic, documentary and sensory.
Ultimately, however, the Watershed Project was aimed at moving beyond contemplation and into action to preserve the watershed for the future -- and protect it from pollution, sea level rise, and other negative impacts of the climate crisis. Although the world's environmental challenges are undeniably dire, we hope that this project will continue to inspire those in St. Mary's County -- and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed -- to expand and accelerate efforts to preserve the Bay, its tributaries, and their surroundings.
Documentation of the full exhibition, including the contributions of our collaborating artists, is available here.
Gabriela Bulisova & Mark Isaac
This work documents the stories of local St. Mary's County residents and their intimate connections to the Chesapeake Bay, including their memories of growing up on the water, working in the fishing industry, finding ancient artifacts, and protecting the coastline. Captured in their homes and workplaces, it seeks an in-depth understanding of how the Watershed's past and present culture may influence preservation efforts going forward.
This innovative photographic series depicts details of the Bay's ever-changing natural environment through the circular frame associated with microscopes, telescopes, or one lens of binoculars. The images are displayed on long, black scrolls -- a choice that emphasizes not only the Bay's rich diversity but the act of seeing itself.
Installation: The Ripple Effect
Gabriela Bulisova & Mark Isaac
This interactive installation allowed visitors to engage directly with Chesapeake Bay waterways. A constant drip of water from an IV bag into a tray was projected onto multiple walls, creating dramatic patterns. Visitors were invited to select water gathered from the most important waterways in St. Mary's County with a dropper and create their own "ripple effect," making clear the considerable impact of our personal actions on the Watershed.
Water Near Water Street
This artwork is constructed from satellite imagery of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. It connects the water to the land and the world of human workplaces and domiciles through a simple construct: searching for images of water that are near streets named after the water. In the Chesapeake Bay region, these streets are everywhere, named for the most important feature of the surrounding landscape: Water Street, Chesapeake Avenue, Bay Parkway, and on and on. These streets appear throughout the Bay region, and within steps, there it is: the water.
But the water is always different. It is wind-whipped, emerald green, and cresting with little waves. It is calm and almost flat and very dark. It is brown but in a variety of shades, giving evidence of strikingly different depths. It is black but with innumerable colored stars in its firmament, as if the night had fallen from the sky and plunged into the saltwater. It is filled with arresting highly saturated reflections in geometric patterns. It is sliced by the wake of boat traffic. It reveals the tracks of humans traversing water on bridges. It exposes the impact of dredging and dumping. It cascades along rocks in tributaries. It is always demonstrating exceptional diversity, but it is also pointedly reminding us of the threat against that diversity – the human activities that call into question the Bay’s long-term existence.
A related project, using locations across the United States instead of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, can be found here.