IN KINSHIP is a multi-year performance project investigating environmental stewardship in Maine’s Penobscot River Watershed, the largest in the state. This river-driven community dialogue is made up of many discrete nodes in a variety of experimental formats. They function as individual performative events with their own dramaturgies and smaller audiences but also come together to make up a larger, cohesive dialogue.
Historically vital to the region’s communities, the Penobscot River is the ancestral home of Penobscot Indian Nation. It has been utilized as a transport super-highway and industrial power generator. It is also home to several species of migratory fish, once abundant, now hovering near extinction.
IN KINSHIP models the fluidity of the river itself. Project activities are determined, devised, and realized through ongoing collaboration with a variety of artistic and civic partners. Each creative process generates further understanding of the project ecosystem and informs future actions. The project employs an amorphous distinction between “audience”, “participant”, and “creator”. Audiences share stories with one another. Children write wishes for the river on bark paper and release them above the cool waters of a tributary stream. Events travel with the river, interweave disciplines, occupy many spaces, and create journeys.
In kinship activities have included ...
Job-shadow collaboration with biologists at the Maine Department of Marine Resources, resulting in a co-written collection of PERFORMANCE SCORES, completed in 2015
A public story-gathering process, co-designed in partnership with the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, and conducted at the Whitewater Nationals Regatta, completed in 2015
A series of interdisciplinary arts-based dialogues, each exploring migratory fish restoration through partnership between artists and biologists, ongoing in 2016
A four-day Ensemble Gathering that brought artists and partners from various corners of the In Kinship project together to practice on-river research, attend local events, envision future activities, and enjoy meals in community, August 2016
When I finished Farms & Fables, I thought that I would go on to produce two projects of similar scale and structure that would explore forestry and fisheries. I knew that I wanted to continue working with land use and natural resource dialogues, and I had been focused for some time on exploring the three cornerstone natural resource industries of our state. I thought that I would produce a “triptych” of sorts.
But when I finished post-production work on OFAF and I had some time to think about next steps, I found my enthusiasm for that plan had waned. There were two problems. First, I was no longer interested in keeping these dialogues separated by industry. I think these conversations are too often separate in our communities, despite the similarities of some of the challenges faced in each sector. I wanted to create a web of interconnected conversations: conversations that might each have a specific focus, but could be linked both by content and in practice. Second, I had a personal and creative need to experiment with scale and form, to make my work more nimble, more responsive, and less burdened by large budgets and a predetermined creative outcome.
I knew that I was ready, in fact I had a deep need, to broaden my geographic reach and begin working in other parts of the state, beyond southern Maine. I have always wanted to develop a regional way of working, a method of linking dialogues among communities separated by geography. I am interested in passage, over land and water and through time. And I needed to return some of my focus to my own relationship with land and place – that thing that got me started on this journey in the first place. I am endlessly motivated by a desire to ensure that every stakeholder has a voice in choosing the future of her sacred places. But I also need to maintain my own connection with the replenishing life force of my homeland.
And so I thought: how about a river? What if I engage with a river? This could allow me to focus on my relationship with a specific and powerful geographic feature while also developing relationships with people. It would allow me to touch several natural resources and their industries. It would allow me to be grounded and specific and fluid and flexible.
The Penobscot River is described by many as the “greatest river in Maine”. It is certainly the largest watershed, draining nearly a third of the state and 8,750 square miles of terrain. It is the ancestral home of Penobscot Indian Nation. The river’s outlet, Penobscot Bay, is directly adjacent to the much smaller river on which my hometown is situated, and embraces so much of coastal Maine that I consider myself in some part “from Pen Bay” despite factual inaccuracy.
And so I've started researching a river. Talking with a river. Talking with people intimately connected with a river. Laboring to learn her stories, to listen to her needs. Seeking partnership with a river and her people. I am purposefully leaving this research process as open as possible, following the conversations and the learning where they lead me. I'm not sure what will be made from these efforts, but I find myself full of faith that I am following a trail rich with both meaning and mystery.
-J. Hahn, January 2015