by Basia Irland
“These three Contemplation Stations, located on the Río Grande, provide a place where one can reflect on flowing water and the nearby Sandia Mountains. The plants used in these high desert sculptures include salt cedar (tamarisk), desert willow, and river cane. Salt cedar is considered an invasive plant in this area, so it’s use as a raw material is actually beneficial to the local ecosystem since harvesting it helps to clear out a non-native species. Sitting within the sculptures, one can focus on the importance of this major artery of the Southwest and witness non-human species nearby such as butterflies, beavers, and coyotes.”–Basia Irland
In our overly frenetic, busy lives, I enjoy creating spaces where one can visit and experience a sense of tranquility and peace — away from the work-a-day world. Especially in this time of the pandemic, these sculptures provide a perfect place to hibernate. Sitting in repose by yourself and viewing a flowing stream has the ability to quiet the mind and relax the body. Contemplation Stations are woven river plants constructed around a sturdy outdoor wooden chair placed on a site near the river so the viewer can be cocooned within and be quietly attentive. The overhead dome-shape frames the view so that a person’s perception is focused intently on the river. All of the senses are heightened when in this type of setting. The smell of nearby plants, the sounds of the current, the sight of branches being carried downstream, the call of birds, are all brought into perspective and can be more deeply appreciated.
I created seven of these sculptural forms on the River Maas, which is the border between Belgium and the Netherlands when I had a large retrospective at the Museum de Domijnen, the Netherlands. Recently, I built and located three of the Stations along the Río Grande here in New Mexico as a way for people to contemplate and focus on the importance of this major artery of the Southwest.
Fulbright Scholar, Basia Irland, is an author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist who creates international water projects featured in her books, “Water Library” (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) and “Reading the River: The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland” (Museum De Domijnen, 2017). These books focus on projects the artist has created over four decades in Africa, Canada, Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Through her work, Irland oﬀers a creative understanding of water while examining how communities of people, plants, and animals rely on this vital element. She is Professor Emerita, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico, where she established the Arts and Ecology Program. Her art is featured in over 70 international publications. Check out her exuberant website, basiairland.com, where you will find blogs about global waterways written for National Geographic; images from her large retrospective in the Netherlands; and extensive projects around the world including: Waterborne Disease projects; “The Gathering of Waters,” which connects communities along the entire length of rivers; and “Receding/Reseeding,” hand-carved ephemeral ice books embedded with a seed text that are floated down streams to aid with riparian restoration.
Visit Contemplation Stations in Albuquerque, NM
Banner image: Basia Irland, View of Río Grande and the Sandia Mountains from within Río Grande Contemplation Station I. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2019. Photo by Derek Irland.
Basia Irland, Río Grande Contemplation Station III: River Cane. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2019.
Basia Irland working on Río Grande Contemplation Station III: River Cane. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2019. Photo by Mary Lance.