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Courtesy of Greg Keller

February 17, 2019

Architecture Student’s ‘River’ Sculpture Is a Hidden Gem

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p class=”p1″>I had the pleasure of sauntering through a certain woodsy part of campus with architecture student Greg Keller ’19, who you may know from his ceaseless Instagram posts of eclectic scenes from his everyday life or just his overall friendly presence on campus.

“It’s still here! Intact!” Greg exclaimed at me, as we ducked under the cadaverous hands of tree branches freshly free from the melting snow. I was happy Greg had told me to switch into boots before we sludged through the mud that the dead February grass secretly concealed. We were just a few feet off from the trail at this point, and I could see vague semblances of something living upon the otherwise completely dead scene. I’m serious, dead leaves, dead grass, dead trees reaching for us. Think any Tim Burton movie. Literally, everything was suggestive of death, except for what I could now make out as a line of clearly meticulously arranged concrete blocks.

Upon the dead, a very living work of art stood.

“River” is a sculpture that Greg worked on throughout the summer of 2018. Ankle height, the work is composed of concrete blocks, arranged to directly model the section of the Rio Grande that’s at the US-Mexico border at Brownsville, Texas and Heroica Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Precise and detail-oriented, Greg included 30-inch breaks or “doors” in the sculpture, to represent places where a bridge was built over the real life river. Originally installed in an indoor gallery setting, the sculpture is meant to raise questions about the natural boundaries rivers create between cultures and redefine what may be considered a wall. While it was in the gallery, “River” became an architectural feature people were forced to engage with while meandering through the art, creating moments of questioning orientation and navigation. In short, “River” successfully forces a visitor to examine more closely the deeper meaning behind phrases like “west of the Mississippi.”

“This was my first time really being in fear of a piece of mine being completely misinterpreted,” Greg told me in an interview. “I worried people would think ‘oh, he built the wall,’ that it’s about a border issue in a fearful way. That’s not at all what this is meant to be about, and even if that is how it’s received, the qualities of the sculpture reject that. Its height — you can just step over it! We have the border drawn on a map, and it follows a river, but rivers are crossed and maps are lies!”

After its time on display in the gallery where visitors had to interact with it by stepping over, on, or around it to view the other works of art on display, Greg decided to move “River” to an outdoor location on campus so that it could reassume its role in nature. Upon the artist’s request, I cannot reveal the exact location of the sculpture. His one hint about its current site he allowed me to share is that “it’s not on flat ground. It would flow if it was actually a river.” If you find it, hang around for a moment, maybe show a friend. Walk around, through and over it. Ask yourself what boundaries it creates. Let yourself ponder its relevance to the current political sphere. Think about the very tangible, physical boundaries in your life that divide your immaterial, cultural or abstract world.

‘River’ can be located by solving this riddle: “field, forest, there as sunrise sunset beyond newcomer’s lair a midrange vignette”

Anna P. Kambhampaty is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her opinion column This Imagined Life runs every other Monday this semester. She can be reached at akambhampaty@cornellsun.com.