Caycedo, Carolina (1978 - )

Serpent River Book (2017)

72 page accordion fold, offset, printed canvas hardcover, elastic band
height: 31cm
width: 22cm

Installation photograph, 'A Universal History of Infamy,' Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 20, 2017–February 19, 2018, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA. Photo courtesy of the Artist


Serpent River Book is an artist book with pages that pleat and fold outwards to resemble a meandering river across the gallery space. It comprises texts, photographs, maps and archival material gathered during Caycedo’s ongoing research project, BE DAMMED, which examines the social and environmental effects of damming practices in Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico.

Serpent River Book is divided into five chapters that mirror the different parts of a river. The first two chapters represent the river’s upper course and explore indigenous epistemology and Amazonian ways of seeing, knowing, and relating to rivers. They depict a harmonious relationship between humans and nature and focus on low-impact, artisanal mining and fishing activity.

The middle and lower courses disrupt the equilibrium depicted in the previous chapters. Photographs of colossal concrete structures, bursting dams, and barren land show the effects of a corporate, neo-colonial understanding of the natural environment and stand in stark contrast to the images of lush nature and roaring rivers of the upper course.

Caycedo’s piece can be folded and read in several directions, providing multiple narratives and a multiplicity of perspectives. The book’s upper side consists mainly of photographs and images and functions as a visual essay, whilst its other side features archival texts, short essays, and poetry.

Diego Chocano, 2020

Art as Counter Imaginary: Serpent River Book (2017)

Serpent River Book (2017) is an artist book that was acquired by ESCALA in 2019 based on the proposal by the students on the MA module Collecting Art from Latin America in 2019. In the module, students explore the works of the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) and propose a work of art that contributes to the University’s education, research and impact strategies, and that reflects the collection themes of Environment, Human Rights, Indigenous America and Religion. Last year, I proposed Serpent River Book for acquisition because it has strong associations with these themes, and because it communicates with spectators in pedagogic way that encourages them to re-consider the relations between imaginaries of modernity and power dynamics around water infrastructure projects and accelerating extractivism.

The Serpent River Book is one of the works in Carorina Caycedo’s ongoing project, BE DAMMED, in which the artist researches the effects of extractivism and the corporatization of water resources on nature and society. The book consists of collages of archival images, maps, photographs, poems and drawings in accordion-folded pages. When it is folded and displayed, spectators can explore through the shape of a winding river various images, such as satellite views of river basins, and photographs of artisanal mining, fishing, landscapes transformed by construction of dams, and communities’ collective actions.

Caycedo started her project in 2012 with an investigation of El Quimbo, a hydroelectric plant on the Magdalena River in Colombia. El Quimbo is a part of the project licenced in 2008 to the Endesa-Emgesa multinational conglomerate to transform the river into the highway to export natural resources and generate electricity.(1) This first hydroelectric project built by a private company in Colombia,(2) El Quimbo drastically transformed the environment and the social landscape. The Yuma River—the indigenous name for the Magdalena River—is known for its rich biodiversity and status as a vital transport waterway for more than 70% of Colombia’s population living in the basin.(3) El Quimbo was estimated to supply 8% of electricity demand in Colombia,(4) nevertheless it caused significant impacts on the ecosystem and displacement of communities living near the site.

Caycedo addresses the impact of dam as “the militarization of the territory, the displacement of natives, and the consequent fragmentation of the ecosystems, communities and local economies.” (5) Collective resistance to the dam-building project involved a wide range of people, including member of the communities, environmental activists, scholars and artists in the areas targeted for relocation. Resistance took popular and effective forms of protest such as marching or road blockade, as well as everyday gestures that became performative actions of protest. Caycedo observes that the corporatization of the water transforms any community activities into political actions through which people claim their right to the common good of water and to remain in the territory against displacement caused by development policy. (6)

The artist distributed copies of the Serpent River Book to communities in Latin America affected by dams and has led collective readings and workshops with the book. Caycedo claims that “Nation-states and transnational corporations have monopolized the imaginary and visual references around dams.”(7) Dams are associated with modernization and strengthen the power of states and corporations, situating civil movements as problems that should by curbed by official power. She states:

I believe art is a powerful mechanism to turn around obsolete and oppressive symbols. The conceptualization and production of new imaginaries and visual references, can challenge the imposition of development and extractivism policies, and their subsequent social and environmental degradation.(8)

Serpent River Book has two sides and modes of communication. On one side, the artist includes texts about the ideas that inspired her, and on the other she has organised collages of images. Collaged images in the book provide spectators with the imaginary of river in association with indigenous epistemologies, sustainable ways of life and solidarity. Furthermore, publication and worldwide distribution of this new imaginary in book format through the art market is a counter to the imaginary of modernity produced by nation-states and corporations. Reading the book expands this counterimaginary conceptually, beyond geographical boundaries and imaginaries of modernity connected to water infrastructure projects and extractive industries.

While the exhibition Carolina Caycedo; When walls become rivers featured a display copy as a work of art folded to imitate the shape of a river, an archival copy is available for consultation by appointment in ESCALA.

Miharu Hori
Student, MA in Curating (2018-2020)

April 2020

(1) Carolina Caycedo, "Serpent River Book," 2017. Available at:
(2) "Endesa Columbia IR Presentation,” June 30, 2011, 24. Available at: 24
(3) “Northern South America: Western Colombia,” accessed 12 February, 2020,
(4) "Endesa Columbia Results As of September 30th, 2012," 2012, accessed 12 February, 2020, 4
(5) Caycedo, "BE DAMMED" (Master of Fine Ars University of Southern California, 2014). iV
(6) "Geochoreographies," 2015, accessed 11 February, 2020,
(7) Caycedo, "BE DAMMED." 8
(8) Caycedo, "BE DAMMED." 20


Caycedo, Calolina. "Be Dammed." Master of Fine Arts, University of Southern California, 2014.

"Geochoreographies." 2015, accessed 11 February, 2020,

"Serpent River Book." 2017,

"Endesa Columbia Ir Presentation as of June 30, 2011." 2011, accessed 12 February, 2020,

"Endesa Columbia Results as of September 30th, 2012." 2012, accessed 12 February, 2020,

browse the collection

artist a-z > work type > advanced search >