Rachel Parrish in her home studio, photographed by Isadora Pennington

This weekend, four sites across the city will come to life with performances, sculpture, and soundscapes crafted by artist Rachel Parish for Flux Projects. The locations, chosen because of their proximity to spring heads that connect the waterways that flow beneath the city, include Grady Hospital, the Georgia State Capitol, the Tabernacle, and the Gulch. 

In daily life it’s all too easy to forget about where our water actually comes from. With taps that have a continuous flow of clean water at the flick of a wrist, our connection with the source of that water has been slowly severed. And yet, it’s still there. Flowing underneath the roads and homes, waterways connect and bubble up via naturally occurring springs. At times, some of Atlanta’s springs were even considered to have healing properties, such as the one located at what is now Ponce City Market. Over time, as the city expanded and new roads, buildings, and neighborhoods were established, we have paved over and forgotten about many of these naturally-occurring springs.

For Parish, working with Flux Projects to produce Emergence, a series of multi-sensory experiences tied to these sites, has been a welcomed opportunity. The concept was first discussed in February,and in the months since Parish has been hard at work. Not only has she dredged logs out from streams and rivers, collected stones, and went downstream with wet clay in order to create molds of land and flora that have been carved by the spring water, she has also found ways to incorporate storytelling and performances. The result is a gentle invitation for viewers to stop and consider their interactions with Atlanta’s hidden waterways.

“I see these monuments as story starters,” explained Parish. “I feel very strongly that the stories we tell inform how we interact with the world and how we navigate the world.” In contrast to some other parts of the world where vast and powerful bodies of water are center stage, such as ocean fronts or along the banks of powerful rivers, Atlanta’s water is frequently overlooked. “Because it’s often very tender, on a small scale, we can have a more intimate relationship with it. The experience of visiting the monuments and each of the components as part of the monuments… They are all offerings for people to consider different ways in which water is foundational to our lives and our communities here in the city.” 

For Parish, Emergence is a natural step in the evolution of her work. Her background in performance arts and longstanding appreciation for nature have been merged in this series. When discussing past projects, Parish describes making art that is in conversation with natural elements such as the movement of the sun in the sky. For Emergence, it’s all about water. Substantial concrete bases topped with moss have basins which will hold spring water and river rock surrounding large pieces of driftwood. 

“Water sculpted them, and embedded within them are pieces of ceramics that I made by going downstream from where the springs are flowing with clay. I molded the landscape around the water, then brought it home and fired it and glazed it with metallic glaze. It has a shimmery, watery element to it. I’m playing with the tension between the natural environment and the built environment.” 

With the knowledge that these monuments will be installed in public areas surrounded by buildings and city streets, Parish wanted to ensure that the pieces would also speak to the man-made environment around them. “Visually I wanted natural markers,” she said, gesturing to the driftwood. “These river sculptures seemed very appropriate as does the moving water, but how does that connect to the world we built as well? By bringing them into visual dialogue together, they can kind of connect on a subconscious level.” 

In her home studio in Grant Park, Parish is in the final stretch before install day. The pieces have to be constructed and assembled in her studio before being deconstructed in order to be relocated to their future sites. 

Parish hopes that Emergence will provide opportunities for contemplation and appreciation of the water which sustains us, even if we can’t always see it. “It’s an invitation to sit with yourself– but yourself as a complex, connected, awesome piece of the universe.” Learn more and see maps to all the sites on the Flux Project website

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.