Alfons Gallery Brings Milwaukee’s Urban Wilderness into Focus

May 4, 2016

A new Alfons Gallery exhibit by Milwaukee photographer and writer Eddee Daniel offers a behind-the-scenes, artist’s eye view of the restoration and revitalization of Milwaukee’s Kinnickinnic River. The show offers a showcase for Daniel’s love for urban ecology and the way that it shapes, and is shaped by, cultural landscapes.

An opening reception for “Concrete River: Memorial and Promise on the Kinnickinnic” will be held Sunday, May 22, from 1:00-3:00 p.m., with a talk by the artist at 2:00 p.m. Alfons Gallery is located at St. Joseph Center, 1501 S. Layton Blvd. (Greenfield Avenue at 27th Street), Milwaukee.

Daniel frames his work conceptually by the paradoxical term “urban wilderness,” which symbolizes the complexity of his subject matter as well as its inherent tensions. He recalls that in the 1960s, the Kinnickinnic River was straightened and lined with concrete to mitigate neighborhood flooding. “The concrete channel destroyed aquatic and riparian habitats, and degraded water quality,” he observes. “Even the original intent of the channelization has become outdated and ineffective for flood control.”

But attitudes about the environment have shifted dramatically in the past half century. Today, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and partners have undertaken an initiative to remove the concrete channel and restore the river to a more natural condition. The Kinnickinnic River Corridor Neighborhood Plan, a joint project of the MMSD and the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, is removing the 50-foot wide concrete channel 6th Street and 27th Street and replacing it with a 200-foot wide, rock-lined river channel.

“When I was invited by the MMSD to document the project area, I jumped at the opportunity,” Daniel said. “It’s exactly the kind of subject to which I am drawn.”

Alfons Gallery Director and Curator Valerie J. Christell said that, “Through an abstract viewpoint, Daniel’s photographs, documenting the condition of the Kinnickinnic River relative to the KK River project, speak to its uneasy relationship to its concrete boundaries.

“As Daniel’s photographs in this exhibit capture the Kinnickinnic River through various weather conditions, as well as the deconstruction of nearby homes, the universal concept of change is evident,” Christell continued. “But the show offers the hopefulness of constructive change out of destruction through his collaboration with Melanie Ariens to include a water shrine.”
“Because the restoration project is in its early phases, most of the images in this exhibit depict the river’s current state as a concrete channel,” Daniel explained. “In order to represent the more hopeful future of the KK, I have invited environmental artist Melanie Ariens to collaborate with me on the water shrine to signify the restored vitality that is envisioned.”

With degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Daniel brings to his current full time practice over 30 years of experience working with environmental non-profit organizations as well as teaching photography and architecture. He began working with the “urban wilderness” concept in the 1990s for a project that culminated in his first book, Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed. Published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, it was the recipient of the Conservation Fund’s Kodak American Greenways Award.

In 2014, he spent a year as Artist in Residence in the Menomonee Valley, a position co-sponsored by Menomonee Valley Partners and Zimmerman Architectural Studios. His work has been published in Family: a Celebration of Humanity, Popular Photography, The Photo Review, Phototechniques, Art in Wisconsin, New Mexico Photographer, and Orion Magazine, among others.

Ariens, Artist in Residence for Milwaukee Water Commons, coordinates water-themed art activities for leadership training and helps implement creative projects, including planning a lakefront celebration called “We are Water.” She has exhibited regionally, worked with both visual and performance artists, has been a mentor to art students and has participated on panel discussions about the role artists play in environmental activism.

“Concrete River: Memorial and Promise on the Kinnickinnic” is on view at Alfons Gallery through July 31, 2016.

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