Telematic Rivers – Erica, Jeana and Diana


How does a body of water embody the body politics?  We explore the ways non-humans can take part in deciding their fates collectively with humans, how they are protected. Telematic Rivers is an installation that provides a technological communication platform and interface where rivers can speak through to voice their concerns about their survival. This experience is meant to reimagine a conference room setting where human and non-human entities are represented. Within this conference room you will see seats at a table representing a meeting of multiple parties. In real time you will see two streaming videos – one of the Seine River in Paris and the second of the East River in New York City. By us streaming each of these rivers in their current state, we are simulating that they are occupying a seat at the table as if another human being was present. This experience is meant to ask the viewer, if non-human entities had a voice equal to humans, would the discussions around climate change be approached in a different way as it is approached today?

Concept, design questions, goal:  

Similar to legal precedents like the Rights of Nature in Ecuador or those granted to New Zealand’s Whanganui River, we are removing the notion that Nature is a human resource but rather a living entity with rights, similar to those of humans. By placing a telematic experience of two rivers, the Seine and the East River in a conference room with a table, chairs, paper and pens, we pose the question, how will these human agreements impact non-humans? We believe these rivers deserve the same attention Whanganui River is accomplishing to challenge the current process of representing and protecting natural elements.

This project explores Rob Shields’ concept of virtuality by enacting a simulation of a river taking part in legal ritual, diverging from the actual context of human legal proceedings, in favor of the virtual space that allows these rivers to participate.  Shields discusses how virtuality can occupy in a liminal space, or a “limen of membership or a new status.” [1

Our installation proposes to give the river a new status and membership to the agreement process, holding a new identity and responsibility of communicating and representing itself similar to human representation. Occupying a liminal space where the river is participating but only telematically, attempting to hold a seat at the table and beyond everyday order or life.  It is also occupying a human virtual space online using a computer-mediated human telecommunication system. Creating a new social order where the rivers has legal status and a means to communicate.

This installation provides a visual representation of this recent agreement and asks the viewer to consider how nature would be represented in discussion regarding its future. This action caused us to wonder how would the rest of planet earth benefit from a similar perspective. If we treated our oceans and endangered land with a similar perspective, would this improve the way we treat nature?


Our overall domains are climate change, political agreements, legal systems, and telematic experiences. Our research began with the idea of creating an environment in which we are acknowledging the existence of a collective silence. In the past, silence has been viewed as a means to disagree with oppositions. In our world today, how can we use the silence? And if the silence is loud enough, will it prompt a change? Silence can take on many meanings, for some collective groups around the world such as Act Up, “Silence = Death,’ for others silence can be a transformative state in which we find peace and clarity. In our environment, we are acknowledging silence as medium to break the silence itself.

We are inspired by Lygia Pape’s performance “Divisor” (1968) in which “participants struggle between individualism and solidarity with the collective experience.”[2] The cohesive elements within the participants gives a sense of community and a united moving front, while also pointing to the individual role within the larger body. A participative audience is activated with only their heads visible popping through a large white fabric, moving through public space as a large amorphous form. Through the Paris Agreement, a global action within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the world’s nations to address global warming starting in the year 2020, we also examined how power structures and political decision-making entities create contracts on behalf of humans and nonhumans around climate change issues.

Despite the Paris Agreements being a active step towards addressing climate change issues, the lack of obligation instilled in the agreement caused many to wonder how impactful this document will be towards climate change problems. Nature, The International Weekly Journal of Science defines the Paris Agreements in their article “Prove Paris was more than paper promises” as “malleable.” [3Since human agreements are deciding the fate and protection of nonhuman elements, including Nature, we are reflecting on the dynamics of different collective initiatives.

In 2017, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was granted the same legal rights as a human being. The River played such an impactful role to Māori tribe throughout history, that it was considered an ancestor for over 140 years. By acknowledging that the river carries rights similar to humans, the river is then perceived as a living entity instead of a body to be owned or abused. [4Prior to this, in 2008, Ecuador was the first to make history by granting legal rights to “all elements of the ecosystem” in its Constitution. [5]We relate the Whanganui river to our local rivers in New York City and Paris, respectively: the East River and the Seine River, focusing on their current state and conditions.  In 2009, the threatened Atlantic Salmon returned to the Seine, France’s largest river, yet it remains part of the city’s sewage system. [6]On the other hand, there has been proposals to help the ecosystem health of the East River, such as the ones made taken into consideration the Oyster reef.  [7]

Following this perspective, we found Masaru Emoto’s research on water’s response to human interaction.  In The Hidden Messages in Water he found that by wrapping “a piece of paper with words typed on it around a bottle of water” [8] the crystals of the water reacted to the message. According to Masaru, when his research group showed the “words meaning ‘thank you’ in different languages, always resulting in crystals that were beautiful and complete.” [9]

Finally our last precedent is Tele-present Wind (2011) by David Bowen, an art installation that consists of electronic devices connected to dried plant stalks. The stalks in the gallery space respond in unison in real-time based on the movement of wind detected outside. [10]This piece exemplifies a natural element or environmental condition, the wind communicating telematically to a space observed by humans, the gallery, giving the wind presence and allowing it to communicate to and through the plant stalks.  

Audience & experience:

This installation is intended for the audience to sit in the chairs around a table and watch the telemetaic presence of two rivers, the East River in New York and the Seine in Paris. These two rivers will be part of a conference room where the audience participates. The piece shows the portion of the meeting where the rivers have a chance to communicate their concerns as part of the collective process towards decision-making; the human participants are asked to listen, and legitimize the platform for the rivers. On the table, the audience will encounter white papers and pens.

Technical Production:

Accounts for the East River in New York and the Seine River in Paris on Skype will be needed. A computer with Skype installed and a Monitor to connect the computer in the conference room. One table and chairs will be placed in the room inviting viewers to participate or to observe. On the table, white papers and pens will be placed to imply a meeting will be taking place shortly.  

Prototyping & testing:

In our first iteration, we began wondering how we can make our voices heard with the use of silence. We starting exploring the work of John Cage and asked ourselves how can we break the silence by using silence itself? We began by creating a new prototype by experimenting with a handwritten quote by John Cage stating, “There’s no such thing as silence.” We wrote this quote upon tape and placed it on ourselves and in other settings throughout an empty space to see if we could effectively capture the presence of people voices being silenced. Through this process we eventually created our own quote which was “even though our mouths are closed, our presence makes noise.” After this process we began pushing forward towards our second iteration to examine the power behind the materiality of these contracts and agreement documents.

Our second iteration began to examine the materiality of the documents created by humans that are intended to protect non-humans.  We started to look at how these agreements are created upon human designed paper and what happens when we break down these items from the recognizable features? We decided to experiment with the process of recycling paper and how this may change our perspective on these documents. By breaking down the paper that represents agreements into a pulp substance to initiate the recycling process, we were able to give a visual representation of the intention of reworking these agreements. What can we take from these agreements that we find helpful, but also envision another form of the document that is more progressive and enriching to the future of our planet? Once we completed this prototype, we began to imagine how this experience may be if it was more participatory for the viewers.

The third iteration continued to use the materiality of the agreements but also asked participants to get involved in the process of recreating the documents. This is an act of reclaiming a more participatory aspect in the process of making an agreement on behalf of human and non-human entities. What is our agency in the paper as a substrate for agreements?  By performing an unfinished cycle of pulping, where paper could be generated, we question the process of making this agreement and we suggest a potentiality of a new agency. We transform the agreement and encounter its materiality. As material it loses its power, but at the same time it is open to the possibility to create a new one. But for now it is unfinished. We encounter with this prototype that we didn’t have a specific case study to contextualize our project that goes beyond the Paris Agreement itself. For this reason we turn our gaze to the legal representation of nature in certain parts of the world as a reference to interpolate it into nature itself, specifically the rivers we mention in our research and concept statement for our final project.

 [1] Shields, Rob. The Virtual, Taylor and Francis, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central,, 12.

 [2] “Lygia Pape, Divisor”, Parasite.

 [3] David G. Victor, Keigo Akimoto, Yoichi Kaya, Mitsutsune Yamaguchi, Danny Cullenward & Cameron Hepburn, “Prove Paris was more than paper promises,” Nature, The International Weekly Journal of Science no.548 ( 2017): 25–27 doi:10.1038/548025a

 [4] Eleanor Ainge Roy. “New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being,” The Guardian. (2017)

 [5] “Republic of Ecuador, Constitution of 2008 ,” Political Database of the Americas, last modified January 31, 2011.

 [6]“Salmon return to France’s River Seine,” The Telegraph, last modified August 11, 2009,

 [7]Susan Hua, “Oyster and Oyster Reef Restoration in the East River,” in Restoring New York City Proposals for Improving Ecological and Human Health, ed. Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg (New York: Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University)

 [8] Masaru Emoto, The Hidden Messages in Water (New York: Atria Books, 2001), page 5.

 [9] Ibid.

 [10] David Bowen, “Tele-present Wind”,