Floating Monuments to the Schuylkill River

For What It's Worth

Creating a floating monument to the Schuylkill River and the refinery on its banks became an act of service by gathering as much trash as possible. In the process of building the monument, we removed litter from the riverbanks. From discarded bottles, boxes, pens, and plastic, we built a replica of the segment of river that runs between Bartram’s and the refinery. The refinery’s pipelines and towers has become irreversibly incorporated into the riverine landscape. While lacking the foreboding of the refinery’s vast infrastructure, Bartram’s garden also deliberately shapes the riverbanks, if in a less visibly manufactured way. Though we barely made a dent in the plastic and styrofoam along the river, the ritual or performance of picking up trash allowed us to meaningfully interact with the river. 

Short Voyage of the S.S Turkey — Three Poetic Interpretations
We found a turkey feather in the field
We built a nest the feather would adorn.
The bottom of the nest was never sealed
Proudly there the nest the feather worn.
The raft, upon pontoons, was settled there
Of twigs and rope, it held a solid form.
The bottles ‘neath the raft, its weight would bear
To float the nest’s small ship through any storm.
We tied it to a rope and let it go.
And watched it bob and dip beneath the breeze
We left it to the whim of Schuylkill’s flow.
She floated there, and seemed to move with ease
But then, too soon, we had to leave the dock.
Left boat in shed, ‘twas guarded by a lock.

There once was a boat called the Turkey
whose design was really quite quirky,
she was built with a nest–
a raft was the rest
and her launch was a bit herky-jerky.

Turkey-feather mast
Half a day to test and launch
Blue above, below

Floating Heron

After finding a dead goose on the banks of the Schuylkill we decided to build a monument to the life of birds in the area. We wanted to envision the future possibility of bird, specifically heron, evolution in response to pollution, litter etc. along the Schuylkill River bank. We chose the heron because it was one of the birds that we had seen in our time on the river and we depict the impact of change in this bird’s environment. Using the images of birds that had swallowed plastic and glass pieces as inspiration, we used a clear plastic bottle filled with glass. All the materials were found in Bartram’s Garden and were a mix between man-made and natural objects.

Lost and Found

This video explores the transformations that the Schuylkill River catalyzes as observed by our group during our time on and around the water. The River continually shifts the shoreline with rising tides, covering and uncovering the banks. These processes occur in a plastic bottle on objects found on the banks, chosen and placed into the bottle by members of our group. Sediment deposited into our bottle obscures the found states of the objects. After repeatedly dipping the bottle into the river, water filtered through holes we cut into the bottle to reveal the altered state of its contents.

Lost and Found is an ode to the shifting tides of the Schuylkill and the objects we may not pay close attention to that reside upon its banks— individual leaves, washed up glass, broken twigs. These objects, lost to our eyes, are found by our fingers, lost again in the sediment and found again by the Schuylkill waters.

Whimsy on the Water

After individual brainstorming, we combined all of our ideas: a hanging mobile, a message in a bottle, an extension of infrastructure. Inspired by the banks of the Schuylkill, our ideas continued to change: we wrote letters to the river, dyed string with mulberry juice, tied and hung branches, stones and bottles to create a kind of windchime. Our creation seeks to express itself across multiple senses – from the sound of the knocking parts, to its swaying in the wind, and the smell of various leaves dragged across its structure. The result is an irreverent documentation of a highly precarious construction.


For What It's Worth.

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Short Voyage of the S.S Turkey

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Floating Heron

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Lost and Found

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Whimsy on the Water

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  • Students used the historical/biological/artistic toolkits developed during the seminar to create site specific works using found materials that envisioned a Floating Monument to the Schuylkill River, led by PPEH Artist-in-Residence Jacob Rivkin. Students documented through video the process of making, collaborating, and installation. A guided tutorial in the afternoon taught students how to edit footage together to create short films of their work. The five films in this collection are what they created.