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On the blog: River of Life

November 12, 2014
by Anna Huntington, Arts Rapid City

A massive riverfront redevelopment project outside of Philadelpia featuring extensive artwork by Masayuki Nagase opened in October. Yuki created River of Life, a site-specific series of hand-carved granite benches, sculptural boulders, and engraved tile pavers and medallions depicting images of local flora, fauna, and water patterns. The work is part of a park along the Schuylkill River that includes new performing arts, community and recreation facilities built over a storage basin for sewage runoff.

In June, Yuki traveled from Rapid City to Philadelphia to install River of Life, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The installation was completed and the project’s ribbon cutting was last month.

Below is Yuki’s statement about his work for the Manayunk CSO Basin at the Venice Island Recreation Center and as well as a description of the project as a whole.

Artist’s statement:

My initial interest was the site’s unique location between the canal and the river and its interrelation to the historical and present interactions with the Manayunk community.  Water is such a significant element for the history of the development of Manayunk. My challenge was how to integrate the artwork in the site and the new design and how to emphasis the experience and reconnection with nature through it.

The overall theme of my design concept is based on bringing awareness to the local community of the natural and historical context of their surrounding environment.  The Artwork is composed of two areas of sculptural seating carved with a series of water patterns, a series of engraved granite pavers with the images of regional flora and fauna embedded in the walkways throughout the site, and  educational signage. — Masayuki Nagase

Project description:

Venice Island is the legacy of 19th century industrial urbanization. In 1819, a three-mile sliver of schist was sliced away from Manayunk by a narrow canal that supplied the textile mills on the Island.  Today this site’s location led the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to install a subsurface Combined Sewer Overflow Tank. This tank holds nearly 4 million gallons of a mixture of sewage and storm water during rain events, preventing untreated wastewater from flowing into the Schuylkill River.

To enable the use of the island for this essential river protection project, PWD committed to a full-scale reconstruction of the Venice Island’s recreation facilities. PWD worked with its sister city agencies and the neighborhood in the master planning process.  This site uses the best in sustainable storm water management, ecological design and restoration to provide a much-needed public place in the heart of Manayunk that addresses multiple needs – recreation, environmental protection, commerce and open space.

The revitalized space reflects the Island’s industrial heritage, local building techniques and the vibrant natural history along the Schuylkill River, all the while meeting the rigorous challenges of creating a safe city park in the floodway. This park resides at the intersection of nature and city, striving to bring both closer.

See photos of Yuki's work on Venice Island by photographers Jason Curtis and Kristen Suzda.



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