"A River Runs Through It": Visualizing Fluency

Curator's Note

This post has nothing to say about Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, or fly-fishing; in fact, it has little to say about rivers. It does, however, begin on the banks of one, on the evening of June 14, 2014, where, in the shadow of the Minneapolis skyline, a piece of the Euphrates streamed through the lens of a digital projector onto the underside of a bridge over the Mississippi. The event was part of Northern Spark, an overnight arts festival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. The footage was shot by Iraqi cinematographer Ali Al-Tayer and commissioned by the local nonprofit Mizna, an organization that supports the creation and proliferation of Arab/Arab American arts and culture. The goal of this project was to create an instance of confrontation and "confluence", a moment that linked the mighty Mississippi to the historic Euphrates by projecting the latter's gentle flow onto and into the American river's.

In "Confluent," the conflict between nations--the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Iraq, an all-too-familiar narrative predetermined and reproduced by the daily news--is exposed as only one version of a complicated story. The rivers connect the disparate spaces and generate a reminder that everyday life occurs on each shore. The visual record recalls the seemingly impossible meeting of the past, present, and future of two communities that depend on these waterways. As the Euphrates is projected onto the Mississippi's unpredictable screen, the image simultaneously maintains and dissolves the economic, visual, social, and historical distance between geopolitically linked countries. And it also creates a moment of reply, a chance to reconsider the terms of U.S. dependency on stereotypical representations of its Arab 'other' by demonstrating the mundane reliance of both on resources like water, oil, communication, and global exchange. But after the event, there is this footage, an archive of the Euphrates in May 2014 that carries with it the traces of this unlikely encounter: a metaphorical and material clash of ideology and everyday life. The viewer, knowingly or unknowingly confronted by a visual merger of, or possible dialogue between, Iraq and Minnesota, is forced to contend with the moving image of the Euphrates as an uncanny reflection of the Mississippi; many spaces refracted by one location, one image, for a limited time only.


Thanks for this great piece, Michelle. I thought about the various symbolisms you pointed out and also about the history and importance of water to each culture, particularly in relation to power. I was looking for a good companion piece to discuss Paul Gilroy's "Black Atlantic" with students and I think I just found it!

I love this piece, Michelle. What strikes me from your discussion on the mutual reliance of resources is each river represents a particularity of matter (and a geopolitical specificity) while at the same time sharing that essential quality of being matter with the other, pointing to water's non-particularity as it were. It's an interesting metaphor for the economic and political dependencies. The light is especially beautiful with the crashing waves.

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