10 Ways of Looking at a Waterfall: A Digital Exhibition: Part 1


From right: David Matysiak, Gary Brown, Kara Wickman, Nghi Duong, Devin Brown, Meredith Kooi, Lear Bunda, Cathy Brown, Meta Gary, Chelsea Weyler, Mason Brown. [Image courtesy of Ruby Falls]

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Fellow Fashioners of the New Cave Art:

On January 11, 2014 the Speleogen Team undertook its inaugural Community Cave Excursion to Ruby Falls, a popular tourist cave that is equal parts theme park, museum, roadside attraction, and legitimate natural wonder. Located just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Falls straddle the lines that separate “natural beauty,” human artifice, and the commercial interests of the tourist industry in the U.S. South.

Because the Falls have essentially been retrofitted for ease of access and navigability, as well as for dramatic effect, they lend themselves perfectly to community exploration and creative engagement. Unlike the “wilder” caves the Speleogen Team has previously ventured through the Falls provide an opportunity for cavers of all levels of expertise to move seamlessly through their placarded, lighted, and musically-accompanied cave environment.


Our quick-witted tour guide Carson
[Image courtesy of David Matysiak]

Of the dozens of participants we invited to join the excursion via Facebook invitation and good old fashioned word-of-mouth, 11 people reported to Speleogen’s unofficial headquarters in Cabbagetown on the soggy morning of our departure.

We encouraged each member of the assembled group to take photos, to record video and audio, and to write down their impressions of the Falls in the interest of using this documentary material as the bases for multimedia art pieces that we would eventually curate and post here. Each participant was given just over two weeks to compose his or her piece and each was prompted to focus upon whatever facets of the Falls experience that most puzzled, inspired, or moved him or her.

The Speleogen Team also facilitated an open exchange of raw video, audio, and photographic materials extracted from the Falls by creating shared folders on Google Drive to which all participants had access. In this way participants could appropriate the documentary work of their peers and incorporate that work into their pieces if they so wished.

Of the original group of excursion-goers 10 people submitted pieces for display here at speleogen.com.

The works we received run the gamut of media and format types (essays, videos, sound art, a poem, and the Speleogen Team’s first ever Vine video entry) and they also display a wide variety of tones, thematic concerns, and subject positions. But although these collected works differ from each other in significant and arresting ways, they still possess some common concerns.

They are each personalized and idiosyncratic reflections upon a communal experience as well as reactions to and creative dialogues with a new and unfamiliar space. They display also the ways in which experiences of an (artificially enhanced) natural environment pierce each person who enters it radically differently.

The fabled Falls shown here in all their synthetically lit glory. Image courtesy of David Matysiak

The fabled Falls shown here in all their synthetically lit glory.
[Image courtesy of David Matysiak]

This first installment of a 3-part digital exhibition presents the multimedia artworks and documentary reflections of three members of our original 11-person Ruby Falls contingent. Like the 2 installments that will succeed it on February 6 and 13, the groupings you hear and see here reflect our desires to emphasize the diversity of media types and perspectives that we received.

We prefer to let each of these remarkable pieces speak for itself without cluttering your perusal of them with unnecessary and distracting verbiage.

But in the interests of playing the roles of conscientious curators we offer the following directions for your listening and viewing pleasure:

– You will appreciate the nuances and subtleties of Mason Brown’s sound piece most if you listen to it with a nice pair of headphones. We encourage you to scroll through the other two pieces as you listen. The audio complements the viewing and reading experiences that immediately follow it.

Kara Wickman’s rich photograph benefits greatly from being absorbed slowly and meditatively. She identifies as an “accidental artist,” but do not let that designation dissuade you from ruminating upon the multitudes her image circumscribes.

Gary Brown’s essay insightfully articulates the goals and aspirations of the Ruby Falls excursion. We place it in the final position of this short sequence because it so gracefully anchors this first installment and the exhibition as a whole.

We hope you enjoy the fruits of our inaugural Community Cave Excursion and we congratulate all of our participants and collaborators on jobs beautifully done.

Happy listening, viewing, and reading,

Team Speleogen

Unraveling Through Hyperreality

by Mason Brown

Mason Brown is a regular contributor to Speleogen.

Look Up

by Kara Wickman


Kara Wickman lives in Decatur, GA with her weird little dog and is an artist by accident.

The Lost Worlds of Ruby Falls

by Gary Brown

I have been to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TN several times. The tour itself is well organized and can be enjoyed by most age groups as the trail to the underground falls is a very easy hike; not too long and no significant climbing required. The tour guides are always making jokes and the cavern itself is an amazing sight to see. Descending over 200 feet by elevator and then exiting into the cavern creates a very special feeling. The tour itself to the falls is well lit with signs posted throughout the passage showing points of interest that the owners of the cavern discovered during their early explorations of the cavern. The tour guides take time to ensure everyone in the group experiences each of the featured attractions that have been created naturally underground. The waterfall itself is absolutely amazing. The area that the waterfall is in has been magnified by light and music to enhance the experience and as a result is a very calm and soothing place to be.


The Blue Ice Lake
[Image courtesy of Gary Brown]

I had the opportunity recently to tour Ruby Falls again on a Speleogen sponsored trip. There were 11 of us. This was the first excursion that Speleogen had made into a “tourist attraction.” We were encouraged to experience the entire day’s activities, including the trip from Atlanta to Chattanooga and back as well as the cavern, from a personal art creation and collection point of view. We were asked to think about how the introduction of man-made elements such as lighting, sound, explanation placards, etc. fit into or detracted from the natural environment that had been made millions of years earlier. Each of us was asked to wrap all of the experiences we collected, including the community and friendship we had created for this day trip, into a piece that Speleogen could then post for review and comment.
Ruby Falls Shark [Image courtesy of Gary Brown]

Ruby Falls Shark
[Image courtesy of Gary Brown]

Once we got into the cavern as a group, I initially started the tour as I had in the past – as a tourist being led by a guide to experience what the Ruby Falls staff felt were the important facts and attractions of the cavern. Watching the others in our group, I quickly realized that I was looking at this opportunity all wrong. This was my opportunity to experience the cavern for myself, the way I found interesting. From that point on I started looking at the shapes of the formations in a totally different way. I started experimenting with using the lighting, installed for safety and for highlighting specific formations, as well as different angles to take pictures of formations in the cavern that were not on the guided tour. That’s how I found the lost worlds of Ruby Falls.From the pictures, you can see I found the Blue Ice Lake and a shark infested reef as well as many other interesting worlds that were invisible to me on my previous visits to Ruby Falls. Next time you visit an attraction, plan to come back or take a second tour while you are there. Enjoy the format the attraction offers on the first tour. The second time, look for the lost worlds. They are everywhere and are amazing when you find them.


Gary Brown is the father of Devin Brown, a founding member of Speleogen. Gary enjoys branching out and trying new experiences.

The next installment of this 3-part digital exhibition will be published on February 6.

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