Water Conversations – New Mexico, USA

Walking Cochiti Dam

10th April 2017 – walking event with community, in collaboration with Courtney Leonard.

As part of Santa Fe Art Institute, Water Rights residency, New Mexico. USA. February – April 2017. 

Cochiti Dam, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. USA. 

See PDF.

‘Walking Cochiti Dam’ is a project in collaboration with Santa Fe based artist Courtney Leonard that focuses on land and water rights at the Cochiti Dam, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico.  This performative work involved working with community members of the Cochiti Pueblo to articulate the complexities of dam building on reservation lands in the USA as part of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and 1960’s Flood Control Act. The controversial Cochiti Dam was built in 1975 by the US Army Corp on the most sacred mountain and burial site in Cochiti Pueblo. The lake silt bed is now contaminated with waste plutonium washed down the Rio Grande from Los Alamos ‘Atomic City’, where the US government research programme, ‘The Manhattan Project’ produced the first atomic bombs between 1942 – 45. 

In recognition of water as a living body, walking in this performance brings into focus the injured landscape of human interventions into sacred natural bodies. The redemptive walk with water at Cochiti Dam is conceived as an act of contemplation on the historical and contemporary complexities of the dam site, governmental river management policies, and the physical and psychological interruption this dam has brought to the Cochiti Pueblo lands. In the performance, Leonard and Macleod use clay vessels to carry water from the recreational lake to the point of release of the dammed river as a metaphoric liberation of the water from confinement.

Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock Nation b.1980) is an artist and filmmaker based in Santa Fe, who has contributed to the Offshore Art movement. Leonard’s current work embodies the multiple definitions of “breach”, an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability. In collaboration with national and international museums, cultural institutions, and indigenous communities in North America, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, and the United States Embassies, Leonard’s practice investigates narratives of cultural viability as a reflection of environmental record. www.courtneymleonard.com

With thanks to Kai-t Blue Sky, Wildlife Biologist, Pueblo of Cochiti and Cochiti Pueblo community for permission to walk on the Cochiti Dam site. 

Media: Clay and mica, deer hide, redwood, tulle, white cotton yarn. white thread.

Photos: Carol Hummel, Jenn Meridian and Scott Kildall. 

The residency at SFAI was made possible through an Individual Artist Bursary from Leitrim County Council, Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland, Travel and Training Award.