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Glacier Vigil (in-development)

various locations on Governor's Island, New York, NY

presented as part of the Works on Water residency and triennial

  • climate research initiative

  • collaborative project

  • site-responsive performance

tidewater studies was a three-part performance that was built in relationship to the rising and falling of the day’s tides. Viewers moved through various spaces around Governors Island at specific times to engage with an audio piece, a performance, and video projection, each specifically designed to invite viewers into the tidal present while speculating about the changing shorelines of the future.


Many thanks to the Kennicott Glacier, Buttermilk Channel, and the Works on Water community for the opportunity to engage with water and with each other. Thank you also to Marion Spencer, Tatyana Tenenbaum, and Carolyn Hall. 

Letter to a Glaciologist

Dear A,

I meant to write you this letter when the leaves on the trees were still green. Now, they've passed through their vibrant, saturated transformation and are filling the hills with a spectrum of bronzes. My mother sent me yet another article about melting glaciers and rising sea levels. I say "yet another", but of course each new report shares more dire nuances. I have been wanting to write with you about glaciers, as you spend so much time being with them. I have always lived in the ghosts of glaciers. The majority of places I have lived are only here because of the melting of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. When I lived in New York City, I used to look at the skyscrapers and imagine the 2 mile-thick ice, rising far beyond the buildings. I spend a lot of my time as an artist thinking about memory, about transformation, change, and how we remember through culture. I think often about what it means to bear witness to such momentous vanishings in the Anthropocene -- what it does to our psyches, to our understanding of the world and ourselves -- and what knowledge may arise from the witnessing. I've been creating work that draws parallels between the melting of ice and human death processes -- specifically around the "death rattle" and processes that occur when there is an excess of fluid in the human body. I'm thinking a lot these days about stories, and how often they are the only thing one has after a person has left their human form. I think about glaciologists as hospice workers -- the ones accompanying ice most closely through its changes; reporting out new phases of instability -- staying with ice through their dying. If you could create a gesture or movement to remember glaciers, what would it be? As bodies of ice disappear from the world, how can we keep memories of them in our bodies? How will we "tell" other generations about them? I would like to ask many glaciologists these questions.

I think I'll leave this letter here for now. Looking forward to corresponding, and hope you are finding enchantment in you're days.


tidewater studies (audio) 

Approaching the Buttermilk Channel at low tide, audience members were invited to download the audio score and listen. The score wove together narrative histories of Governors Island and led listeners through somatic instructions to engage with the water. The narration was accompanied by field recordings from the Kennicott Glacier in McCarthy, Alaska, and ambient soundscapes.

concept, narration, arrangement, vocals: Tyler Rai

music composition, processing, keyboards & guitar: Benedict Kupstas

mixing, vocals: Ethan Wood

vocals: Tatyana Tenenbaum 

tidewater studies (performance) 

Beneath one of the arches of the island’s old barrack buildings, viewers encountered a 20 minute solo performance. Informed by Rai’s somatic studies of the movement of the tides, the work engaged with the site’s architecture by leading audiences through spatial relation to the water and horizon, and the qualities of light and obscurance enacted through the use of six emergency blankets. Slow, emergent, and immersive, the piece traveled to and from the water in the distance, used movement informed by rising and falling, and fluid states of motion. The audience was invited to witness the performance in-the-round which led them through various thresholds of the architecture and ultimately to the water which was rising from low-tide.


choreography and solo performance: Tyler Rai

music: Matt Evans

tidewater studies (film) 

8 mm film projection

8:22 minutes

What is impermanence? How do we understand the various migrations that will (and are) occurring due to rising floodwaters and changing tides? These questions were explored through a short 8mm film created in collaboration with artist Brighid Greene. Conceived as a temporary portrait of place, the imagery incorporates long shots of wild places on the island, the shoreline, as well as the coming and going of people, ferries, and insects. The film was projected onto a screen overlooking Buttermilk Channel where audience members sat outside together in the dark, the loading docks of Red Hook glowing in the distance.

concept, dance: Tyler Rai

music: “Arcto 2” by Matt Evans

film: Brighid Greene

works on water (residency) 


The Works on Water Studio Residency provides an incubator space for diverse investigations of water in the urban environment. Over the course of 3 months, I maintained a studio on Governors Island where I kept track of the changing tides, mapped high and low tide onto the walls of the studio each day, and engaged in movement studies inspired by the view of the water. These studies became incorporated into the final site-specific performance.

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