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River, for a Thousand Years, 2011

The Gallery Gubidxa (“Sun” in Zapotec) is located in Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico and is an independent cultural space founded by and run out of the home of Victor Fuentes. His gallery encompasses his commitment to education, honoring the environment, and promoting the arts. I was invited to develop a project revolving around the local river, which since 2005 Victor had been working to transform into a sort of artistic corridor in the hopes that the locals would remember to honor the water the way their ancestors had (instead of dumping and burning their garbage on her banks.)

In response, I taught local children to make one-string guitars, maracas, and drums out of the trash that we picked up in the streets and pulled out of the river. Additionally, the children enthusiastically helped me to collect and wash innumerable plastic soda bottles, which I painted and fashioned into a rainbow-colored snake. Complete with their homemade garbage noisemakers and costumes, with the snake held high above their heads, we paraded through the streets of the town (and even in front of town hall, an unplanned improvisation!) Then, in an act representative of an all-too-common habit of the modern human animal, we went down to the riverbank and threw the snake into the river. She drifted downstream, mixing with the flotsam, as we ran along the riverbank much faster than we had anticipated necessary, in order to pull her out before she reached the ocean.

Río, por Mil Años (River, for a Thousand Years) was the name Victor gave to the final exhibition in the gallery, where we presented artifacts from the workshops and the public performance—the children’s concept drawings, the actual musical instruments (including a junk drum set that I assembled at the last minute out of all the different buckets, pots and pans that the kids banged on in the parade), the bottle snake, and documentary photographs by our good friend and collaborator Uli Loskot. I was reluctant to leave when the project was completed, but the bottle snake lived on without me. In December, she was resurrected and paraded once again as part of an annual ecological arts festival that Victor organizes. But this time she grew as she was marched through the town, her caretakers adding to her tail the bottles they picked up as they walked the streets. Now longer than ever before, the snake was finally hung on the gates of the recyclable plastics collection center that Victor runs in the open lot across the street from his house.