The river is the reason there can be inhabitants in this part of the arid high desert. It’s why there are animals and plants, towns and cities.
And it’s drying up.
In 2020, through stretches of Albuquerque and elsewhere, the river was shallow and skinny, if not disappearing altogether. Hydrologists say it could be dry this year from north of Bernalillo through Albuquerque. The miles of dry riverbed where there should be flows are new and alarming. Water agencies in New Mexico are warning farmers not to plant crops this year. Human-caused climate change over the last few decades—the blink of an eye in the river’s ancient timeline—is one culprit. Another is human interference with its flows, the damming and trading and control of water, a resource that’s become more valuable than gold.
“There Must Be Other Names For The River” is a composition for singers who embody river flow data at six points along what we call the Rio Grande. The goal of this piece is to engage our relationship with this source of life in this region, and in a time of physical distancing, to acknowledge that the river is also a way we are connected with neighbors and ecosystems, seen and unseen.
Our hope is that with this visceral connection and acknowledgement, we can find a way to ask the right questions and make demands of governments and industry to save this river. Because though they would put pressure on impacted people and communities to use less water, if you look at the big picture, it’s often more about policy and industrial regulation. The river that we call the Rio Grande—but which has been called by many names throughout its long life—must survive long into the future.
This is song. This is a fight.
Marisa Demarco is a musician, performance and installation artist, composer and journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
She’s the founder of Gatas y Vatas festival for boundary-pushing performance and Milch de la Máquina, a performance art crew. She’s a leader with Death Convention Singers, the largest noise collective in the Southwest, and she performs solo as Bigawatt. She also teaches Sound Art at the University of New Mexico and leads workshops on small electronics projects.
Demarco will create a sound and video installation and performance for the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez in the coming year and a sound installation at the National Hispanic Cultural Center centered on endurance strategies. She’s a SITE scholar, and her work is in the museum through early March 2021 as part of the exhibition “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” In 2020, she performed virtually as part of the 22nd annual High Zero festival.
Demarco is a longtime news reporter and producer for public radio, spending much of her career focused on legal justice reform and public health. She is also an MFA candidate at the University of New Mexico’s Experimental Art + Technology Program.
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Jessica Zeglin is an artist, gardener, and educator currently based in the middle Rio Grande valley. Her works in sound, drawing, textiles, and installation are grounded in theories of emergence, where complex patterns emerge from simple building blocks. Her research- and place-based craft addresses threatened ecosystems and cultural-ecosystem interactions, emphasizing listening, attentiveness, and tending practices that bridge biological and conceptual divides.
Zeglin’s work has been shown at Trapdoor Projects and Birds+Richards Gallery in Albuquerque, NM, the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, MN, and the Tamarind Institute Gallery. She has exhibited public place-based installations in Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Kansas, gathered soundscapes from the dry playas of Central Oregon and led listening walks through remnant tallgrass prairie in Eastern Kansas. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Art and Ecology from the University of New Mexico, a Master of Public Health from the University of Minnesota, and is the recipient of the PLAYA and Tallgrass Artist Residencies as well as a Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research program fellowship.
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There Must Be Other Names for the River was performed for an audience at the UNM Art Museum on April 19, 2019.