Collaborations Collaborations with Celeste Pfau

River Melt Performance

Lee Milby

The following videos are documentation of a performance experiment that Markitecture and I (Lee Milby) executed in Alabama, in relation to Markitect’s architecture thesis project at the Cooper Union. Art alumnus Celeste Pfau operated camera.

cooper union architecture
Markitect and Lee Milby fight against the current of a rowdy Alabama river.

I’m naturally drawn to water, ever since I swam in the ocean as a baby in Hawaii. I cannot fathom what it’s like for people to have trouble swimming or not know how. To me it is second nature to move through liquid, just like breathing air.

Markitect is more of an earth element than water… and while he was freezing and shaking, my body was just warming up. The water was probably in the 50’s-60’s when we went in. But bodies of water always call to me and draw me into them, regardless of the weather.

Becoming blobs. Markitect and Lee Milby become a river monster.

I love how the fabric moves fluidly in the current and how our bodies act as anchors. The water was moving so fast and the rocks were so slippery that it was a trial just to move one foot. You may see in the videos how I was struggling against the river’s force. At one point, I was tumbled over and fell down into the water and over the rocks. My leg was scraped, but the cold rushing water cleared the wounds and numbed the pain.

Cooper union performance art
Markitect is about ready to keel over and die. Lee Milby rests on a rock, feeling at peace with the world.

One thing that these videos don’t show is the feeling of being enclosed within the drenched fabric walls. The sounds of water trickling and lapping, our voices and breathing echoed in the small spaces– bouncing off of the water’s surface and the water coated fabric. Our skin and clothing were constantly pressed and pulled, the fabric pieces were grabbed by the water and we struggled to keep them wrapped around our bodies.

I really love the feeling of being swept away and surrounded by something so powerful and potent. I personally really enjoy fighting against currents and weight, struggling to keep myself afloat and moving against an atmosphere that pushes back as much as you push it. You have to be totally present to deal with the adversities of nature. There’s nothing more grounding than being enveloped by something so grandiose and indifferent.

Atmospheres of water and air aren’t so dissimilar, if you imagine that air is a soup of weak liquid. We’re all swimming around in molecules and elements, and somehow we still think that there’s such a thing as empty space.