Moving The Water(S): Ashokan Fugues 2016, the world class multi-media installation by West Shokan/New York City-based artist Margaret Cogswell that’s been filling the Kleinert/James Arts Center gallery for the last month in Woodstock, and runs through August 15, had at least a portion of its origins in two very local experiences.
“Driving across the old ‘Lemon Squeeze’ by the reservoir got me thinking of all those who were displaced by the building of the reservoir,” notes Cogswell, whose installations have been supported by various grants, and shown in museums across the nation in recent years. “My husband and I moved up here in the early 1980s when he got a job as a studio assistant to [noted Minimalist artist] Al Held, who split his time between New York City and Boiceville. We didn’t want to live on his compound so we ended up renting and then buying a cottage in West Shokan.”
Her new work continues a flow of similar installations she’s been working on for over a decade now. Enter the Kleinert and one’s immediately swallowed in by the sounds of water and voices, two looped series of videos, multiple sculptural components that include metallic facsimiles of New York City water towers and oversized umbrellas hosting a number of giant green balls, and even a quieting section of atmospheric watercolors. Somehow, though, it doesn’t feel assaultive, or confused, but contemplative and thought-inducing. Much like any presence of water can do.
The artist explains how her research-based installation “explores the link for over the past 100 years between New York City’s unquenchable thirst and the people in the Catskills Watershed and their mountain streams.” She adds that earlier “Fugue” pieces on rivers visited the Mississippi and Cuyuhoga among other water bodies, and an earlier version of this Ashokan-inspired and reflective piece showed two years ago at Cue Foundation in New York, back when this exhibit’s curator — Woodstock Guild executive director Jeremy Adams — was in charge there.
“I came up with the idea of the fugue [a classical musical format made great by Bach and modernized by Glenn Gould] as a way to bring disparate voices and ideas together,” she explains. “I want to be able to take the viewer to another place; I want to transform narrative into a poem.”
Cogswell talks about the ways in which many approach art in a literal fashion, seeing only what an image is, or should be, rather than what it can be. Similarly, she worries about being too “elitist” or inaccessible. All of which have been tackled through well-thought-out elements of Moving The Water(S): Ashokan Fugues 2016.
There are artist statements and other materials available at the Kleinert. In particular, the artist worried about those green balls…which she says came about as a means used in videos to demonstrate the movement of water.
“I found a lot of people wanted to know what they were…I tried telling them to relax and listen to what you’re thinking. You can put it together; it’s a layered experience,” she adds. “But with a bit of help, learned from my years as an educator, I can also play to my other wish: to tickle people’s imagination and let them trust that imagination. I don’t want to take that away from the viewer.”
The idea of the fugue, Cogswell adds, is more than the integrating of two distinct musical themes, but also a psychological description for a certain state of being: a loss of awareness of one’s singular identity. Just as the timing for this current exhibition, as well as an upcoming one in the New York City Public Library system on the site of the former reservoir that quenched Manhattan’s thirst in its earlier years, plays off the coming centennial of the mighty aqueduct and reservoir system next year.
“I take three to five years to put these pieces together,” she adds. “I get lost in the research, and then I work with what I find.”
In those findings, and this manner of fugue, rises new poetry…and music.
Moving The Water(S): Ashokan Fugues 2016 will be on view at the Woodstock Guild’s Kleinert/James Arts Center gallery through August 15. Visit www.byrdcliffe.org for further information