2009 Rivers of the Underworld

Exhibition: Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities (permanent collection)
Location: Bogliasco (Genoa), Italy.
Dates: 11 November – 22 December 2009
Media: Glass vessels, digital animation, discarded objects, light, shadow and sound, oils, recovered objects
Dimensions: 5 works @ 150mm x 485mm
Music by Mark K. Johnson

RIVERS OF THE UNDERWORLD was fully funded and completed while on a fellowship at the Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities in Bogliasco, Italy. It is composed of five large apothecary jars representing ‘water’ from the five Rivers of the Underworld. The five rivers were Acheron the River of Sorrow, Phlegethon the River of Boiling Blood, Cocytus the River of Frozen Tears, Styx the River of Hatred, and finally Lethe the River of Forgetfulness. The jars are filled with blackened oil surrounding lost or discarded elements and fetishes representing the individual themes of Sorrow, Boiling Blood, Frozen Tears, Hatred, and Forgetfulness.

These jars are filled with detritus collected from streets, fields and trash pits – and re-presented as reliquaries that speak of our cultural values and act as witnesses to our social condition. The trash and the detritus that people thoughtlessly throw away every day is re-presented as something beautiful, compelling, seductive – but embodying the underlying message that we are creating our own rivers of the underworld through what we discard so wantonly. The aura of Rivers of the Underworld is a guise unique to a community – even a year. It is a time capsule as well as a time line. By re-framing trash as sacred reliquaries, detritus transforms into witness and ultimately into accuser. It preserves the detritus for the future. It demands a reckoning.

Greek and Roman mythologies (Plato’s Phaedo and Republic, Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and later in Dante’s Commedia) describe the five Rivers of the Underworld. The Greeks and Romans believed these five rivers equated to five actual underground rivers in Europe.


Study for River of Sorrow (Acheron)

Studies for River of Boiling Blood (Phlegethon) / River of Frozen Tears (Cocytus)

Studies for River of Hatred (Styx) / River of Forgetfulness (Lethe)

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