The River Sees


In 2023, on a Fulbright Graduate Fellowship in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, with the Kaiwharawhara stream, we created The River Sees. Advocates are working to have legal personhood granted to this catchment, as has been done with other landforms in Aotearoa. Every step of this project’s development intended to mirror the legal personhood framework by highlighting the stream’s intrinsic autonomy.

I asked her [Kaiwharawhara] for permission and for guidance. She led me to the small breaks in the canopy of the dense, dark old-growth forest she lives beneath. In those places where the water shimmered in small patches of sunlight, I shaped stones, clay and plant detritus into light-proof structures that sat in her current. At night, I sealed medium-format color film inside. Over twenty four hours, water flowed over the film at the bottom of the apparatus. By facing the aperture towards the forest canopy above the stream, the Kaiwharawhara was enabled to image the environment she sustains and share her visions with us.

The images from these collaborations are awe-inducing. They contain visual realities beyond human perception. Their softly psychedelic beauty crafts a moment for people to feel sentience of place. In the anthropocene, encounters like this can cultivate meaningful change in human behavior. When we feel connection, we can move towards building a better future for our human and non-human kin.

©Madison Emond
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