Down to the Sadness River is a compact evocation of unnamed grief. The titles suggest a story. A woman named Emilía sees a child playing by the river. He falls in and is kidnapped by the current; she chases the river, crying, but is unable to save him. All that is left is “one of his little shoes.” She spends years trying to soften the edges of her devastation. She tries sewing, shopping, eating. Nothing helps. Inexorably she descends into a world of blue: blue thoughts, blue memories, a thick blue fog across her heart. Down she goes, again and again, down to the sadness river where she sits and weeps. And this is where we find her, weeping still.
Perhaps the story is even more personal. A couple conceives a child. They purchase a pair of little shoes. Their hearts fill with joy at the life that is to come. But there are complications. The child does not make it to term. Now their lives are bathed in a “strange light” as their minds occupy two worlds: the world that is and the world that they dreamed would be. A “solemn silence” fills the rooms where laughter was once heard. One day, the father picks up his guitar and begins to play. But the timbre no longer matches his mood, so he searches for a bow to leech the sadness from the strings. The mother sits at the piano, at first playing only a single note.
No consolation is found here, only the grace of art. Lee Yi and Meneh Peh (Emilía) smear the edges until all that remains is soft foam. Their music adds dignity to loss, meaning to madness. Cyanotype photos spark a sense of nostalgia, all innocence lost, now a negative image of itself. The artists create tiny prints, evocations of a tiny life, their impression larger than their size, as a child’s impact is larger than age. Now we understand why the tracks are so short. There’s just enough strength to get through a minute, maybe two, before collapsing. But perhaps our shared sorrow should be admiration: for a minute at a time, maybe two, the deepest blue recedes to reveal a lighter hue.
So yes, in a minute, a single minute, this pair of artists can strip back the skin to reveal the heart. The bowed guitar cries like a cello. The piano attempts to provide a net. All efforts to lift the spirit fall short. But this is not their intention. Their intention is to reflect loss, and beauty, and gratitude. Some spend days at the sadness river. Others waste entire lives. Some eventually drown. But few can translate sadness into sound as delicately as a single ripple, whose beauty is seen only when it is observed. (Richard Allen)