Ginger Brooks Takahashi
Nine Mile Run Viewfinder
Launching Summer 2021, Nine Mile Run Viewfinder is a series of portals for seeing, hearing, and smelling the waterway beneath our feet. Part of the Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative, this artwork was created to bring attention to the connections between Nine Mile Run, the stormwater and sewer systems, the Monongahela River, and the water we drink. The artwork advocates for a healthy watershed in eastern Pittsburgh and neighboring communities.
To create this interactive piece, Brooks Takahashi worked with Pittsburgh-based designers Clear Story to design an edition of three manhole covers constructed with ADA accessible metal grating. These covers will replace three existing storm sewer manhole covers that provide access to Nine Mile Run. Designed to bring light to the underground stream, the Viewfinders focus and frame a real time view of the flow. Gaps in the metal grating allow for the transmission of sound and smell, and the flow of the stream will power light to the bottom of the culvert.
Nine Mile Run Viewfinder is an immersive sensory experience that opens a door to a hidden underground world and challenges perceptions about how we are connected to the Monongahela River and beyond.
Research & Process
Brooks Takahashi was inspired by the work of artists Bob Bingham, Reiko Goto and Tim Collins at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, whose efforts led to the establishment of Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA) in the early 2000s. Building on their work as well as that of her Wilkinsburg-based partner organizations, NMRWA and Center for Civic Arts, Brooks Takahashi undertook extensive research into the waterway.
Its headwaters begin north of Wilkinsburg and enter the Borough in an underground culvert, ranging from 8’ to 30’ below ground. The water then runs south through Wilkinsburg and Frick Park, and finally empties into the Monongahela River, one of Pittsburgh’s three major waterways. Along its length, the health of the Run and the ecologies that surround it have been endangered by combined sewage overflow, inadequate drainage, and dumping of industrial and chemical pollutants.
By providing three points of connection along the largely-unseen underground stream, the artwork builds awareness of our subterranean reality and draws connections between rainfall, sewage overflow, and the proximity to our watershed’s source. Nine Mile Run Viewfinder advocates for continued human awareness and intervention to our stream’s health, as well as a shared responsibility for our role in ensuring the health of a much larger ecosystem of waterways.
Nine Mile Run Viewfinder will consist of three sites in Wilkinsburg, PA: Hunter Park, Whitney Park, and West Street between Penn and Ross Avenues. Several online resources, including a video, downloadable map, and written and recorded scores for each site, will provide additional information about the artwork and navigating each site.
Please check back later in Summer 2021 for more information about this piece and ways to engage with it.
About the Artist
Ginger Brooks Takahashi’s collaborative project-based, socially enraged practice is an extension of feminist spaces and queer inquiry, actively building community, and nurturing alternative forms of information distribution. She is co-founder of queer and feminist journal LTTR; projet MOBILIVRE BOOKMOBILE project; the touring musical act MEN; and General Sisters. She has presented work at the Oakland Museum of California, 2019; Jewish Museum, 2016; Tensta Konsthall, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, 2013; Museo Tamayo, 2010; New Museum, 2009; and Serpentine Gallery, 2008. She received her BA from Oberlin College and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2007. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. (Image Credit: A.L. Steiner)
“What lies beneath our soil and our roads, that which is assumed to be solid? What is flowing underground? In Pittsburgh we are surrounded by our three rivers, but do we consider how that water gets there—What is the source of this water?”Ginger Brooks Takahashi