Nesewin: How to Breathe Under Water, references Native Americans’ struggles for survival and visibility, as well as the struggle of the natural environment to adapt to climate change. “Nesewin” means “to breathe” in the Anishinaabe language, which is spoken by the Three Fires Confederacy of Indigenous people of this area.
Artists Jamie Topper and Laura Miracle say about the sculpture: “To develop the form for this sculpture we looked at native wetland plants, like willow and birch, to see how they have adapted to cycles of periodic flooding. We found the seed of our design in a morphological structure called aerenchyma. Nesewin represents an enlarged cross-section of a willow stem, revealing the openings of the aerenchyma. We see the aerenchyma as a fitting conceptual metaphor for cultural resilience, and the continuing adaptation of Indigenous populations to changing and often inhospitable environments.” The steel, patina, and bluestone sculpture was completed in 2019.
The sculpture is on the grounds of the Dunning Read Conservation Area, which is next to the Dunning Read Mental Health Center at 4201 N. Oak Park Avenue. Funding for the sculpture was provided by Searle Funds and Chicago Community Trust. The Dunning Read Conservation Area (DRCA) covers 23 acres of land with a wide range of terrains, including remnant wetlands connected to the Des Plaines River. The conservation area is protected and supported by a variety of organizations that seek to keep safe the natural resources of the land, the animals and the community in which they live.
As part of 4000N, the sculpture mirrors the larger project’s themes of resilience, cultural survival, restoration, and the importance of water. 4000N, formerly known as the Northwest Portage Walking Museum, is a trail of art and learning experiences along the Irving Park Road corridor between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River. Each installation along 4000N expresses a different aspect of the connection between humankind and the waterways of Chicagoland. The 9-mile trek begins at the Serpent Mound at the Northwestern Woods canoe launch area in Schiller Woods at the Des Plaines River and concludes at the final proposed installation, the Coil Mound, in Horner Park. The mounds were designed by artist X, formerly known as Santiago X, an Indigenous futurist artist. 4000N was created through collaboration of the American Indian Center (AIC), the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), and the Portage Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA).