Denver City and Auraria, the two settlements that were later united to become Denver, were founded at the confluence of two rivers, the South Platte and the Cherry Creek. This location had served as a campsite for the Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians for decades, as well as for early white travelers who came through this country on their search for pelts and quest for freedom and discovery. A French-Canadian trapper lived with a Native tribe in the present-day Denver area for 7 years from 1815-22. In 1842 mapmaker and explorer John C. Fremont came through the area.
While the city founders chose this location explicitly for its water source, the rivers also caused immense trouble for early Denver. People built houses and businesses too close to the riverbanks and into their dry beds – coming from the Eastern states they were not familiar with flashfloods.
Denverites soon neglected and polluted the rivers – even more so in the 20th century after Denver had secured other water resources from aquifers and by channeling Colorado River water across the Continental Divide. What had once been pleasant natural streams became stinking open sewers, their banks lined with the refuse of an ever-growing city.
After the flood of 1965 – the greatest in Denver’s history – the city’s attitude towards its rivers slowly changed course. Debris was removed from the rivers, former railroad and junkyards were developed into new neighborhoods, parks and trails were created. The confluence has become a vital part of Denver life again.
The video installation wraps around three gallery walls, where the three center projections recreate rapids at the confluence of the rivers. The water flow is accentuated with light strips of glassine paper that sway lightly and extend along the gallery floor to draw the visitor into the piece. An inflatable island located at the bottom of the rapids offers a spot to join the bathers in the scene. Projectors are situated so that the visitor’s shadows are cast into the scene and make him/her part of it. The two outer projections tell the story of Denver’s rivers in a flow of old photographs and short texts.