Vital Current


Vital Current – Seeking the San Lorenzo is a site specific interactive installation for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History lobby. The project was funded by a Creative Work Fund Grant awarded to Utterback and The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in 2015. The piece officially opened to the public at the Glow Festival on October 22, 2016.

This installation provides visitors to the public Museum of Art & History lobby with a visceral experience of interacting with archival and contemporary images and videos of the San Lorenzo River, and contributes to a historical understanding of place. Participants can explore the visual history of the San Lorenzo River by “dipping” their fingers into the river on a touchscreen kiosk, causing new images to appear and disappear in the large river shaped projection on the MAH’s lobby windows. The river flows through Santa Cruz (just behind the buildings across the street from the MAH lobby) and is key to the city’s location and history.

The base imagery in the river projection  is a series of high definition 4K videos Utterback shot of the San Lorenzo during her time developing the piece. With each person’s touch on the touchscreen, a different still image ripples into view in a corresponding location in the river video. The still images are dynamically pulled from more than two hundred images which Utterback collected from local libraries, museums and archives, along with contemporary and historic photographs of people interacting with the river which she gathered from the public and other local organizations. Date and credit information each image shows on the kiosk as each image appears.

The dynamic layering in the projection of the river videos and the archival and contemporary images, allows people to explore the many ways the river has been enjoyed, used, abused, cared for, as well as how it has been pictured by residents, tourists and the city itself. Themes include the river’s role as an industrial site for lumbering and hide tanning, as a community space for water carnivals, as a tourist destination for picnicking, bathing and fishing (largely before the river was controlled), as a source of trauma in disastrous floods, and as a present lesson in ecosystem restoration and new forms of public use.

The goal of this piece is that people’s interaction with the artwork deepens both their understanding of Santa Cruz history – how the history of the river has been visually captured, portrayed and preserved – and their ongoing personal roles in the future of the river. While the changing and evolving history of our human relationship with the San Lorenzo River is specific to Santa Cruz region, our relationship with the environment in general is an urgent universal concern.

To gather the still images featured in Vital Current, Camille collaborated with archivists, librarians, historians and many individuals in the Santa Cruz community. She also received valuable support of The Coastal Watershed Council and The Santa Cruz County Arts Council. Images were researched and collected from The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History archives, The Santa Cruz Economic Development Group archive, The Santa Cruz Public Library, the UC Santa Cruz Special Collections at the McHenry Library, The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, The Coastal Watershed Council, The Santa Cruz County Arts Council, Oddball Film & Video, and the personal archives of many individuals who generously shared their photos and films for this project.

Project Team:
Santa Cruz Museum of Art History Team: Stacey Garcia, Marla Novo, Justin Collins
Project Management: Dana Hemenway
Programming Support: Mary Franck
Fabrication: Conrad M. Meyers II
Project Intern: Alison Swanson

This project was made possible in part by a grant from The Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund that also is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.