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Exhibit At Hartford Public Library Shines Light On Hog River

Peter Albano And Joseph McCarthy Explore Underbelly Of Hartford


December 03, 2012

Hartford has a hidden underworld, and Peter Albano and Joseph McCarthy have made it their business as artists to tell the city about it.

"There's always this sense of excitement when we tell people that there is an underground river under Hartford," says McCarthy. "It's quite an undertaking to bury a river. People don't believe it."

Albano and McCarthy have been working on their Hog River project for months now, and they have an exhibit opening on Friday at the ArtWalk at Hartford Public Library.

Hog River, which once meandered citywide, used to flood frequently and was given the name Hog River because it smelled bad. So in the '30s, a project began to force the river's flow underground. It took decades and involved municipal and state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers. Today, the river flows through a two-mile cement tunnel almost entirely buried and pitch-black.

In the springtime, the river rises too high in the conduits for safety, almost to the ceiling, but in other seasons, a handful of intrepid canoers have made themselves into sort of a secret society of river navigators.

McCarthy's photographs approach the river from two perspectives, both photojournalistic and surreal, or as he says, "toeing the line between conceptualizing the river and documenting the river."

"Down in the river, the emergence of daylight is rare. Once you go down, you won't see the sun again until you finish your journey," McCarthy says. "You lose your connection to the outside world."

Albano is a mixed-media artist, and from the way he talks about the river, he should be a poet, too.

"The experience is not so much 'wow, what a thrill,' but more subtle, a sense of sensory deprivation, echoes, the rumble of traffic above, peaceful," he says. "You never feel so at home in the city as when you're down there. You're at one with the space. You're part of the blackness. It's all yours."

McCarthy's photographs are lit with torches, for an orangey glow, and flashlights, which give off a bluer hue. They show endless expanses of concrete flooded to various heights with water, walls buried for more than half a century showing signs of water-wear, a few ghostly boaters and, infrequently, a splash of graffiti.

Still, Albano says the full vibe of the river is hard to encapsulate merely with pictures, so he created a "sketchbook series" of abstracted collages from old maps, blueprints, documents from the Army Corps of Engineers, photos of the city skyline. "It gives us a view of Hartford through the lens of the river," he says.

McCarthy, a Tolland native who now lives in Middletown, and Albano, a Bristol native who now lives in Middletown, have logged many hours in their beat-up canoe. However, they say that novice river-explorers may have a hard time starting on the hobby.

"There is no concise map of where the river is. It's a spider web of tunnels, offshoots, conduits," McCarthy says. "When we first started, it took a couple of days for us just to locate an entrance to the river."

The pièce de rèsistance of the exhibit is McCarthy and Albano's canoe, a beat-up, scratched, patched, paint-peeling hulk. "It's so dark down there, and sometimes you're going downhill, and there are concret pillars," McCarthy says. "It's hard on a boat."

PETER ALBANO AND JOSEPH MCCARTHY: THE HOG RIVER REVIVAL COLLECTION will be at ArtWalk, on the third floor of Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St. in Hartford, from Friday, Dec. 7, to Sunday, Jan. 20. An opening reception will be Dec. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. The ArtWalk is open when the library is open: Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Details: http://artwalk.hplct.org/

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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