‘Tide Field’ and ‘River Rooms’ help us ‘read’ the Schuylkill River

June 29, 2018

Artist Stacy Levy hopes that while you’re sweating the lack of parking spots or that missed bus, you will sit for a beat to notice the massive natural force that’s as big as the moon, the sun and the sea, unfolding daily in your midst.

Her installations, “Tide Field” and “River Rooms,” aim to help Philadelphians to connect to the tides that push water up and down Schuylkill River every day.

You may have noticed the clusters of buoys near the boardwalk along the river, near the Art Museum or at Bartram’s Garden. Those are part of “Tide Field.” The basic idea is to show you the tide, that mostly invisible rise and fall of the river that brings the forces of the sun and moon on the ocean into the city every day. The Schuylkill’s tide changes up to six feet daily. 

“A lot of the aspects of nature are completely invisible to us,” Levy said by phone as she prepared to head to the river to check the low tide. “This is a completely natural system running right in front of us that’s not really legible to us.”

Levy, who grew up on the edge of Fairmount Park near the Wissahickon dividing her time between the natural and urban landscapes, wants to help us read it.

She has been working on the installation for two years. It’s a cooperative project between Bartram’s Garden and Mural Arts Philadelphia with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The largest “fields” are located along the shoreline at Bartram’s Garden and Bartram’s Mile at 56th Street. There are also sections closer to Center City, near the boardwalk, the Walnut Street Bridge and the Art Museum. The tide, of course, stops at the damn near the Art Museum.

At low tide, all of the buoys are exposed. As the tide rises, the buoys become sort of animated, some arching over the surface at various stages until finally just the top buoy is visible at high tide.

Levy hopes the installations will help change the relationship many Philadelphians have with the Schuylkill, which has long been the butt of jokes.

“People sometimes think of it as an open gutter running through the middle of the city,” she said. “I want to help bring back it’s natural power to our daily lives.”

Near Bartram’s Garden, “Tide Field” is best seen from one of six “River Rooms.” Levy designed each of these small structures to resemble the bow of a boat. They provide a place to sit near the river and just look.

“I really wanted people to take a moment to look out at the river surface,” she said. She wanted to give people a glimpse of what the people fishing along the river see every day.

“I thought, how could I make a fisherman’s day for someone who doesn’t want to fish,” she said.

“Tide Field” buoys will likely be in the river until November, unless we get a hurricane, Levy said, which could wash them away.

(Photos by Steve Weinik).

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