One drop at a time

River on the Run Artist Collective tackles issues of water and ownership

  • One of the pieces Rhian Brynjolson contributed to Trickle Down, now on display at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery. – Rhian Brynjolson

  • “Balance of Nature” by Bob Haverluck is part of the Trickle Down exhibit. – Bob Haverluk

The artist’s clock does not run on eight-hour workdays; it is a fickle machine given to periods of static followed by volleys of energetic output.

When good creation strikes, the result should challenge, question, explore and inform.

River on the Run Artist Collective does just that.

It is the collaborative voice of Bob Haverluck, Deborah Schnitzer, Rhian Brynjolson and Sam Baardman. Together, they push one another to investigate social, environmental and ethical issues.

This time, they’ve rallied around a cherished current of commonality - the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.

Now showing at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery, the group’s latest exhibit, aptly titled Trickle Down, is about the “nature and ownership of water and information.”

It is, as well, a love letter to those friends we find in familiar bodies of water, and an indictment of the treatment bestowed on them.

After an emotionally charged day at the Occupy Winnipeg protest, Rhian Brynjolson shared some midnight meditations on the potentially transformative power of art as dialogue.

“Dialogue about political issues tends to get bogged down in rhetorical arguments and catch phrases,” she says.

“Art has the potential to be subversive; it can subvert the imagination. Art can also give us courage.”

Through art, we may be able to gain the courage to address the increasingly perilous issue of water privatization in our own country.

“Privatization is just out of control. In Canada, we are far too complacent about corporate activity,” claims Brynjolson.

Is the claim far off?

She says that last year, “No one blinked an eye when Veolia signed a contract with the City of Winnipeg.”

And the problems begin in our backyard.

“I’ve noticed that the water at the beach gets greener every year,” she notes.

Brynjolson believes that we each have a responsibility to become more aware of water issues and of the water we use every day.

“If we want clean water in Manitoba, it’s up to all of us to make our voices heard,” she adds.

The Collective hopes that the exhibition will act as a vehicle to remind city residents why they love the river, or the larger Lake Winnipeg Watershed - and, maybe emotion will incite action.

Brynjolson explains the creative advantages of working within a collective, as “being able to see from multiple perspectives, through conversation and critical feedback.”

“It has stretched us in different directions,” she says. “A painter coaxed into writing monologues, a singer-songwriter to photography and a poet became part of an installation project.”

Perhaps a lesson to be gleaned from this current wave of social unrest is that things can change; that by stretching ourselves in different directions, we are capable of unprecedented things.

So, do something different. Pick up a paintbrush. Start recycling. Head down to the exhibition. It’s a start.

Change can happen - one drop at a time.

The exhibition runs until Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery at 600 Shaftsbury Blvd. Visit www.riverontherun.ca.

Published in Volume 66, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 19, 2011)

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