Margaret Cogswell is a mixed-media installation artist residing in New York and the recipient of numerous awards including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant (2017), The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2009), New York Foundation for the Arts (2007,1993); Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant (1987,1991) and Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant (2014). Since 2003, the main focus of Cogswell’s work is an ongoing series of research-based projects exploring the increasingly politicized role of water. River Fugues take the form of mixed-media installations and drawings, and explore the interdependency of people, industry and rivers. River Fugues projects have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Selected exhibitions include: Moving The Waters: Croton Fugues, Mid-Manhattan Library, NYC, NY (solo/2017); Ashokan Fugues, Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, Woodstock, NY (solo/ 2016); Soundings, Margaret Cogswell & Ellen Driscoll at Kentler International Drawing Space, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY (2015); Moving the Water(s): Ashokan Fugues and Wyoming River Fugues, CUE Art Foundation (solo/2014); Water Soundings: Zhujiajiao River Poems, Zendai Zhujiajiao Art Museum, China (solo /2014); Wyoming River Fugues, Art Museum University of Wyoming (solo/2012); Cuyahoga Fugues Re-Visited, SPACES Gallery, Cleveland, Ohio (solo/2012); Hudson River Fugues, Peekskill Project V, Hudson Valley Center For Contemporary Art, Peekskill, New York (group/ 2012-13); Hudson River Fugues site-specific installation for Lives of the Hudson, at the Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY (group / 2009-10); River Fugues, DePree Art Center and Gallery, Hope College, Holland, Michigan (solo/2009); Mississippi River Fugues, Art Museum of University of Memphis, Tennessee (solo/2008); River Fugues for Envisioning Change traveling exhibition at Chicago Field Museum (2008), Monaco Ministry of Culture (group / 2008) and BOZAR Center for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2007); Buffalo River Fugues, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY (solo/2006); Hudson Weather Fugues, Wave Hill, Bronx, NY (group/2005); and Cuyahoga Fugues, SPACES Gallery, Cleveland, Ohio (solo/2003).
In his Musices poeticae praeceptiones of 1613, Johannes Nucius defined a fugue as the frequent and definite recurrence of the same theme in various parts which follow each other in spaced intervals. RIVER FUGUES is an ongoing series of research-based projects exploring the increasingly politicized role of water. River Fugues utilize the musical structure of a fugue to weave together video and audio components into mixed-media installations exploring the interdependency of people, industry and rivers. My reason for using the fugue is because of its flexibility as a conceptual framework that can be applied to any set of components one is trying to integrate, be they sounds, voices, images or structures. While the initial process for gathering materials parallels that of a documentary filmmaker, the work upon completion does not follow a linear descriptive narrative. Instead my mentors are found in composers and poets whose use of intervals, sounds, images and words create works which are provocative and ask questions, rather than descriptive in order to provide answers. Of particular significance are Glen Gould and his narrative fugue, The Idea of the North, along with Anne Carson and her prose poem, The Anthropology of Water. Both artists stretch the boundaries of language and music, and challenge my thinking as I seek to explore visual parallels in the development of my own fugues and endeavor to create work that pierces, and is intellectually and visually provocative. Often poignant elegies, these works reflect the complex and changing relationship of a society to its industries and rivers, and strive to be a contributing artistic voice in a larger conversation addressing issues of water.
Upon arrival in New Mexico I was introduced to the acequia system of water sharing for irrigation and began my research by spending three weeks in San Cristobal, prior to my arrival in Santa Fe. At SFAI, I continued this research as I tried to absorb the history of this complex and beautiful region of the Southwest. My research process included reading, going out into the field to explore and video in the landscape, as well as to meet and interview people in relation to the acequia system. Part of my creative response involved creating a series of drawings that might imbue the spirit of what survives in the rugged landscape in and around the extended region of Santa Fe. These drawings seek to reflect the intensity of what I learned about the life and history of the area around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico—an area where the struggle for adequate water and water rights is an extension of ongoing complex relationships between different peoples over hundreds of years. The Water Rights residency at SFAI inspired me to continue research into acequia systems in order to develop what I hope will eventually be a related project that might make a contribution to larger conversations about water and water sharing systems.