Back to THE HISTORY OF THE FUTUREFall 1999/ Winter 2000

Friday, October 29, 1999   Art in the Environment:

Billy Curmano, Motivational Aspects: Swimmin' the River

The pot is boiling. Jump froggy! Jump! When water temperature is increased gradually, a frog will just sit back unconcerned, but suddenly at 1000 C the water boils and the frog dies. The frog has no evolutionary experience with boiling water and consequently, no sense of danger. This phenomenon is known as the Boiled Frog Syndrome.

Humans have no evolutionary experience with the ever expanding array of toxins washed into air, water and soil every day. Those three elements, crucial to survival, have become waste repositories. Like the Boiled Frog, Toxified Humans sit and stew oblivious to the deadly brew.

The artist, as cultural shaman, remains a skip or two before the masses documenting the future, or maybe lack thereof. Performance artists have maintained this tradition and attempted to expose social injustice, expand mores and institute positive change. It's not heroics; it's just our job.

As an American, I've grown up in the belly of the beast. This is America, where twelve million obsolete computers flow into the landfills annually. Where an average three child family consumes the resources equivalent to a 103 child Bangladeshi family. Where designer water flows from grocery shelves, while much of the world drinks and bathes in filth.

The Italian Futurists strove to wake the world from artistic doldrums and "Past loving". They fantasized about America and technology as a panacea. As an Italian American aware of the limitations of technology and our sometimes less than honorable national heritage, I am their bastard son; the future of the futurists. I say the rebirth of performance will save us from TV.

I waded into the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minn. manipulating its waters and in turn being manipulated. The river became a performance channel bisecting the continent. I continued, arte-vita, for ten summers and over 2,000 miles swimming from drought to flood stage and beyond. Ozawindib, an indigenous Ojibwe leader, had shown Henry Schoolcraft this lake his people had called Omushkos or Elk for nearly 100 years. Henry promptly "discovered" and renamed it Itasca cannibalizing the Latin Veritas Caput or true head.

Following this historical precedent, I realized Europeans had the capacity to discover and claim land simply by sailing the seas, keeping journals and posting flags or banners. It seemed only appropriate to reclaim the river for natural pursuits by swimming its length under the banner of art, while documenting the process through secondary performances, videos, objects, installations and with journals housed in the Containment Case. Like a lover, the river embraces me and I have been immersed in that intimacy for thousands of miles, immersed in life, immersed in art, immersed in the Mississippi.

Americans enjoy waving the Bill of Rights, those cherished liberties and freedoms, but Swimmin' the River suggests adding a most basic freedom: "Freedom from Toxicity". It becomes a rallying point demanding a return to sanity and the freedom to enjoy safe water, air and soil for this and future generations.

 |  thotf menu  |