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Hannah Jones

FLOW: Flux Projects’ new series exploring Atlanta’s relationship with its waterways

The upcoming collaborative project will focus on the South River. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

By Hannah E. Jones

While it’s not known for its waterways, the City of Atlanta and the metro area are home to about 3,412 rivers and streams. When looking at a map of these water systems, the metro area is covered in blue squiggles; When zooming into city limits, those lines disappear. Atlanta isn’t waterless, rather, its springheads and waterways are obscured by our city’s infrastructure. 

(L to R) Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Parish. (Left photo is by Jeremy Dennis; Right photo is courtesy of Flux Projects.)

Two interdisciplinary artists and longtime friends — Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Parish — are looking to help reshape the way the city thinks about its water. The two are diving into a joint project centered around Atlanta’s waterways, some of which lie below the pavement. The piece is still in its beginning stages but will analyze Atlanta’s water systems and our relationship with them, with water acting as the project’s third collaborator. 

The work will be part of Flux Projects’ FLOW series, a new multi-year project exploring Atlanta’s history with water, how it has shaped our city and its future potential. Flux Projects is a local nonprofit that enlists artists to create public art that tells stories about the city’s sites and the people who live here. 

Sunde is a New York-based artist entering the Atlanta art scene as the latest addition to the Flux Exchange Program, where she’s been invited to create a public art project based on the city’s physical and social landscapes. Parish calls Atlanta home and recently released “Emergence” with Flux.

The pair met in 2011 and have since become close friends and “accountability partners,” as Parish describes them. The two have regular meetings, which span over a decade, to give each other assignments, offer critiques and talk through ideas.

Working with water isn’t unfamiliar to either of them. If anything, it’s a trusty collaborator. 

Sunde’s 2019 performance in Bodo Inlet, Kenya, where she stood for 12 hours and six minutes. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Cameron Sunde.)

Sunde recently wrapped “36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea,” a series of nine public art performances where she stood in a large body of water for an entire tidal cycle, between 12 to 13 hours. The multi-year project was used to inspire conversations about sea level rise and our relationship with water. She also co-founded Works on Water, an organization that uses art as a mode to explore water in an urban environment.

Parish also recently completed “Emergence,” a series of temporary monuments sitting atop four springheads downtown. These unseen aquatic sources lie underneath some of Atlanta’s most noted sites — the Georgia State Capitol, Grady Hospital, the Tabernacle and the Gulch. This project inspired the FLOW series.

Parish crafting “Emergence” in her studio. (Photo courtesy of Flux Projects.)

“[Parish and Sunde] found a way to push each other forward and hold each other accountable on their individual projects,” Executive Director Anne Archer Dennington said. “They seem like kindred spirits in how they work. I see them as very complementary but different enough to bring something to each other’s work.”

Earlier this month, Sunde visited to learn more about Atlanta and its local aquatic sites. During the tour, Sunde and Parish decided on their waterway of focus — the South River. One of only two urban-origin rivers in Georgia, its watershed includes about 544 square miles of creeks and streams. 

The aquatic landscape has long faced serious ecological threats due to lackluster protections, which the folks at the South River Watershed Alliance are dedicated to improving. In 2021, American Rivers named Georgia’s urban river the fourth-most endangered in the U.S.

The artistic duo is interested in the waterway’s complex history and present, with the South River serving as a symbol of water’s environmental, social and cultural implications.

“The infrastructure has been built to shut us away from the water and unable to access, touch or connect with it,” Sunde said. 

She continued: “Everyone is so set in their ways. Are we able to sacrifice for the greater good or will it take lots of crises to really change? I feel like we’re living in a balance of unknown. The art that I’m making asks, ‘How do we rethink things?’”

Still in the brainstorming process, the creative duo is considering this project through multiple lenses, Parish explained, including “a journey from the [East Point] origin to the Atlantic” and an installment that has a “big visual impact.” One version is subtle while the other is bold, much like water’s many forms.

“Our collaboration with the water is a practice. How we listen to the environment, how we pay attention to our ecology, it’s all a practice,” Parish said. “In terms of scale, we’re both really interested in how that can sit within a community, how it can create more conversations and awareness. A large presence can make people feel and move in different ways.”

The pair plans to complete the project within the next two years. No matter its final form, the public artwork will challenge its viewers to re-examine how they relate to the life-giving liquid and the surrounding natural world.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.

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