A Surge of Inspiration
UW-Eau Claire students explore flood loss through art installation
It’s not necessarily that the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers are inspiring, as that any environment an artist is in creates that inspiration. So when you live and work and go to school in a city with two rivers, constantly crossing them and walking alongside them, it’s only natural that they’d enter your work.
“As artists, most of our ideas are generated from the environment around us. On campus, we walk over the bridge over the Chippewa most everyday in order to get to class,” said UW-Eau Claire student and artist Catelyn Mailloux. “The Chippewa also characterizes a lot of Eau Claire. Watching the ebb and flow of the Chippewa over the last couple of years has certainly influenced me to think about such aspects of nature and how they affect people.”
Mailloux and classmate Megan Byron recently installed a piece of art that was not only inspired by the river, but incorporates it. The River Bend Art Project is a public installation along the Chippewa River from the UW-Eau Claire footbridge to Third Avenue. The piece is a reflection on one of the more dangerous aspects of water: flooding. It incorporates sculptures by Mailloux and Byron as well as drawings by local grade school students. and was installed earlier this month.
The River Bend Art Project isn’t the only work of art to incorporate the Chippewa River in recent memory. Everything from the cow sculptures lofted on the high rail bridge north of Madison Street in August, a dance performance as part of Movement Arts Day last June, and the now infamous ‘Loch Chip Monster’ – the cement sculpture that floated in multiple forms on the river this summer – have utilized the rivers in some way.
But as the creators of the Loch Chip and cow sculptures found, public art – particularly guerilla art – isn’t always welcomed by the officials who maintain the waterways. The Loch Chip Monster was ordered to be removed for blocking a navigable waterway. Mailloux and Byron had to have their project approved by UW-Eau Claire, the Parks and Forest department, the Parks and Waterways Commission and Eau Claire’s City Council.