project image
Karla Conrad

first performed on March 06, 2020
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
performed once in 2020


Everett Bartlett, Jennifer Masada, Melinda Myers, Joyce Peak

Pittsburgh, PA / Lincoln, NE / Iowa City, IA / Grinnell, IA


In 1889, my maternal ancestors immigrated to Iowa and made it their home. One hundred years later, I would too. A land of rolling hills, green pastures, streams, rivers, and lakes. Their decision to settle in Iowa seemed obvious. Water.

As a native Nebraskan, I always coveted and feared water. It was present, but often hidden; not seen until mechanically pumped to the surface or when the ground became so saturated it emerged from below. Now, in Iowa, there were threats from water I could see. I moved to the state in 2012 and the flood of 2008 was still etched into the landscape; buildings, like skeletons, were left in its wake.

“Downriver” animates those skeletons. It is an invented rite of passage performed and filmed along the Iowa River. The ceremony is concerned with duality: past and present, nurture and destruction, labor and lethargy. It engages with the very human desire to control the uncontrollable.

My father appears first, laying motionless on his back, floating in a Cedar Strip canoe. It’s dusk, he is outside; then he is alone in a Brutalist room. He examines the space and the objects with him: a block of ice, steel table, bur oak tree, sand, water, and 2x4s. He assembles and disassembles the space, over and over, while three other bodies appear and disappear in the space. For five days they come to this room, keeping track. Tracing time. Waiting. Watching.

The ice melts.