Installation: DATE/UM


Philadelphia’s post-industrial landscape serves as backdrop and as actant in the broader conversations around ecological temporalities of Timescales. We see a timescale as intrinsically ecological in that different networks, communities, and types of information shape how we experience, understand, and know a place and its temporalities. Along with the conference’s three days of transdisciplinary conversations, films, and performances, this archive-as-mobile installation features collaborations and interventions developed by a growing corps of academics, activists, artists, and communities in and along the Lower Schuylkill River (LSR).

Through the installation, we explore the problem of data, and the date as one kind of datum. A datum functions as a unique measurement of observations, qualities, or trends, while a date performs the task of marking out and defining time through specific, quantifiable means. In the context of the LSR, data/dates are embedded into a watery, industrial landscape and used to describe the various human and nonhuman communities that the river hosts. In what ways, this installation asks, are the timescales of various kinds of river data in/commensurable?  

The Delaware River’s largest tributary, the Schuylkill River is subject to multiple histories, ecologies, infrastructures, and communities. The LSR and its watershed host an oil port and a refinery complex, as well as a wildlife refuge, tinicum marshlands, and many communities and neighborhoods. Yet the LSR and the communities that inhabit its watershed are not only vibrant; they are also subject to a number of vulnerabilities, some difficult to see. In the past year, the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) and our collaborators have created, collected, and analyzed different kinds of data with the aim of illuminating the LSR’s histories, ecologies, and inhabitants.

Various kinds of information, embodied knowledges, and individual as well as collective memories emerge from and are inscribed on and by the LSR. This landscape contains different kinds of data, including many that are hard to see with the human eye and others which span centuries or millennia. To create an archive of the LSR involves the translation of the spatialities and temporalities of the river itself into discrete and specific kinds of data. How might the LSR become more visible if these multiple data sets are brought into dialogue? How might the incommensurable temporalities of biological, material, and social networks find space in a single river archive? The promise and problem of in/commensurability are posed as questions explored by this mobile installation in open-ended conversations with multiple publics.

We consider the scientific and aesthetic impulses of witnessing the LSR, both their purpose and possibilities. What are we accomplishing by measuring and gathering data, by dating and historicizing the LSR, and by envisioning the LSR anew? What kind of possibilities and pleasure might our activities afford?

If an archive gathers heterogenous forms, media, and data, what then provides the linkages between fluvial archival materials measured and sensed along varying timescales? In short, we are asking: How do we archive a river? How does the river function as an archive? Are dates useful? Which kinds of data are useful? How do they become meaningful? What might they mean to you?

Curatorial Team: 

Patricia E. Kim (Lead), Laurie Allen, Pete DeCarlo, Gerardo Cedillo Servin, Bethany Wiggin

Design: William Hodgson


Kislak Center, Vitale Media Lab, Van Pelt Library, Penn Museum, Brooke Sietinsons and the Penn Arts & Culture Initiative, Bartram’s Garden, Drexel University ExCITe Center, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition, Mary Mattingly, Philip Flynn, Jeff Nagle, Mason Rosenthal