Nine Mile Run Viewfinder

Artist

Ginger Brooks Takahashi

Date

2021

Location

Wilkinsburg, PA

Collaborating Organization

Center for Civic Arts in collaboration with UpstreamPgh

Introduction

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 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 photovoltaic cells 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.

Visit the Artwork

Nine Mile Run Viewfinder is located at three sites in Wilkinsburg, PA: Hunter Park, West Street between Penn and Ross Avenues, and Whitney Park (which is temporary de-installed for repair). Several online resources provide additional information about the artwork and navigation of each site.

Self-Guided Experience: Text-based scores

Three written scores by the artist provide an intimate, self-guided experience of Nine Mile Run Viewfinder. Download these text-based scores and read along to learn more about the landscape, ecological features, and environmental history of each site.

Self-Guided Experience: Audio Scores

Listen to an audio version of each score on the Echoes website.

Nine Mile Run Map

Download an artist’s rendering that shows connections between the headwaters of Nine Mile Run, our sewage system, the Monongahela River and our municipal tap water.

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 (now UpstreamPgh) in the early 2000s. Building on their work as well as that of her Wilkinsburg-based partner organizations – Center for Civic Arts and UpstreamPgh – 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 flows out as a stream that runs through Frick Park for two miles. It then 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.

Related

EVENTS

Wilkinsburg Sacred Spaces Arts and Culture Community Day

Meet the artists of the Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative on September 11th, 2021, at an outdoor event celebrating Wilkinsburg’s history, arts, and culture.

PROJECTS

How Did This Happen?

The project by Aaron Henderson aims to raise awareness of the environmental challenges affecting communities in the Mon Valley.

PROJECTS

Dirt Is Beautiful

The project by Mary Tremonte is designed to increase the visibility of new and established community garden participants within Grow Pittsburgh’s service network, and provide them with more resources.

“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

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.

About the Collaborating Organization

Center for Civic Arts is a community-based arts organization that supports artistic citizens and public art enterprises that bring forth ideas about our lives as a way to know, understand, gather and act.

UpstreamPgh envisions a region with clean water accessible to all, healthy and resilient communities, and ecosystems restored to their natural functions. UpstreamPgh restores and protects the watershed ecosystem, while working regionally to support and implement resilient solutions for a healthier urban environment.

Image credits

Gallery, top:
(1) Nine Mile Run Viewfinder design rendering, 2021, photos by artist and Clear Story, image courtesy artist; (2, 3, 5, 11) Nine Mile Run Viewfinder by Ginger Brooks Takahashi, 2021, photo courtesy Lindsay Dill; (4, 6, 7, 10, 12) Nine Mile Run Viewfinder by Ginger Brooks Takahashi, 2021, photo courtesy OPA; (8) “Viewfinder: Before the stream was made underground/ Culvert under Hamilton Avenue, looking south with Nine Mile Run, September 28, 1911,” original photo by Pittsburgh City Photographer, image courtesy artist; (9) “Viewfinder: Before the stream was made underground/ Workers line the completed sides of the Nine Mile Run trench with liner plate, May 21, 1931,” original photo by Pittsburgh City Photographer, image courtesy artist.

Artist Headshot:
Artist Ginger Brooks Takahashi, photo by Travis Mitzel, courtesy artist

Related

EVENTS

Wilkinsburg Sacred Spaces Arts and Culture Community Day

Meet the artists of the Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative on September 11th, 2021, at an outdoor event celebrating Wilkinsburg’s history, arts, and culture.

PROJECTS

How Did This Happen?

The project by Aaron Henderson aims to raise awareness of the environmental challenges affecting communities in the Mon Valley.

PROJECTS

Dirt Is Beautiful

The project by Mary Tremonte is designed to increase the visibility of new and established community garden participants within Grow Pittsburgh’s service network, and provide them with more resources.