Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come

Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler

Buttons, plates, marbles, bottles, coins, bullets, keys and other historic artifacts are suspended in a rhythmic free fall, a choreographed parade, in Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come (2024), a new public video art installation by internationally renowned artists, Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler. Past Deposits is commissioned by Waterloo Greenway for Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park, demonstrating the Park’s commitment to showcasing contemporary public art as a starting point for vital community-shaping conversations and collaborations. Teresa Hubbard (b. 1965, Ireland) and Alexander Birchler (b. 1962, Switzerland) have worked collaboratively since 1990, and they are among the most important contemporary artists working with film and new media. Their work focuses on the ways in which histories, social life, and memories intersect. Hubbard and Birchler are based in Austin and are Professors in the Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.

While researching the history of Waterloo Park and Waller Creek, Hubbard / Birchler discovered that almost two decades ago, artifacts had been unearthed from the site and placed in deep storage at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Although the banks of Waller Creek have likely been visited by humans for thousands of years, due to ferocious and unpredictable flooding in the area, artifacts prior to the mid 19th century have all been washed away. What remains are hundreds of artifacts from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Hubbard / Birchler spent a year studying each artifact, which will be unveiled to the public for the first time through their artwork. The artists have rendered the small, everyday artifacts found during the multiple digs along Waller Creek into incredibly detailed, monumentally scaled image projections. The colossal-sized objects orbit one another – with synchronous and asynchronous movements – some spin wildly and without inhibition against a dark void. Past Deposits will fill the entire 16 ft x 120-foot wall of the Moody Amphitheater, and will be presented nightly until park closure.

In considering a soundtrack for Past Deposits, Hubbard / Birchler have chosen a hybrid approach of embracing the existing sounds in Waterloo Park and commissioning the creation of a musical score for instruments and voice. The score for Past Deposits is created by composer Alex Weston, with whom the Artists have previously collaborated. The musical score is synchronized to the video installation and can be listened to over any personal mobile device in the park on the evenings when the work is presented. On the opening night, the score is performed live with a musical ensemble.

Past Deposits reminds us of the people who resided, worked, and lived out their lives in and around Waller Creek from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. The work evokes contemplation of the complexities of a much longer, deep history of all of the lives lived along the banks of the creek. Past Deposits revivifies these histories by representing a vast array of artifacts, each touched by human hands, that were buried under layers of earth during the numerous floods that swept through the lower Waller Creek area time and time again. Taking the repetition of these natural occurrences as a point of departure, the artifacts featured in Past Deposits are caught in a continuous flow, adrift in a current or stream, ever moving. Hubbard / Birchler’s artwork offers a poetic, visual meditation on the notion of time itself, questioning whether time is linear or a continuum, whereby past, present, and future intermingle. The passing of time, the trace and fate of the things that mark our everyday existence – the buttons that fasten our clothes, the toys children play with, the jewelry we hold dear, the keys to lock our doors – are indeed central to the work.

Facilitating critical contemplation around our shared pasts and possible futures, Past Deposits also foregrounds the ways in which we know and understand our world. The artists relied upon very basic principles of organization – subject matter, material composition, and function – resisting systems of hierarchy to choreograph the parade of artifacts. These traces of everyday life, which may be seen as simple discards by some, are given new value, becoming ciphers for a past that is present all around us.

Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come will debut to the public on March 2, 2024. 

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler

Teresa Hubbard (b. 1965, Ireland) and Alexander Birchler (b. 1962, Switzerland) have worked collaboratively since 1990, and they are among the most important contemporary artists working with film and new media. Their work focuses on the ways in which histories, social life, and memories intersect. In their films, photography and sculpture, Hubbard / Birchler create a hybrid form of storytelling that weaves together reconstruction, reenactment, and documentary. Hubbard / Birchler are based in Austin and are Professors in the Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hubbard attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, as well as the graduate sculpture program at Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut. Birchler studied at the Academy of Art and Design Basel and the University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland. They began collaborating as artists-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts and later completed graduate degrees at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada. In 2017, they were each awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, Canada, in recognition of their outstanding achievements to art and culture.

Their work has been presented at numerous international venues in solo and group exhibitions, including the 48th and 57th Venice Biennial; Giacometti Institute Paris; Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Kunsthaus Graz; Mori Museum Tokyo; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Reina Sofia Museum Madrid; Tate Museum Liverpool and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

Hubbard / Birchler’s work is held in public collections throughout the world, including the Goetz Collection Munich; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian, Washington D. C.; Kunsthaus Zurich; Kunstmuseum Basel; Los Angeles County Museum of Art LACMA; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles MOCA; National Museum of Art Osaka and the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.

On View

Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come is free and shown every night, half an hour after sunset until 10pm, at Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park, except for evenings when a ticketed concert or other special event is taking place.

Past Deposits was commissioned as a 5-year exhibition and will be displayed through March, 2029. The schedule below is published seasonally and subject to change on short notice. Please check back before you plan to visit.


Wednesday, May 1 · 8:35pm
Thursday, May 2 · 8:35pm
Sunday, May 5 · 8:38pm

Monday, May 6 · 8:39pm
Thursday, May 9 · 8:41pm

Wednesday, May 22 · 8:51pm
Thursday, May 23 · 8:52pm
Friday, May 24 · 8:53pm
Saturday, May 25 · 8:53pm
Sunday, May 26 · 8:54pm

Monday, May 27 · 8:55pm
Tuesday, May 28 · 8:56pm
Wednesday, May 29 · 8:56pm


Saturday, June 1 · 8:58pm
Sunday, June 2 · 8:59pm

Monday, June 3 · 8:59pm
Tuesday, June 4 · 9:00pm
Wednesday, June 5 · 9:00pm
Thursday, June 6 · 9:01pm
Friday, June 7 · 9:02pm
Saturday, June 8 · 9:02pm
Sunday, June 9 · 9:03pm

Monday, June 10 · 9:03pm
Tuesday, June 11 · 9:03pm
Wednesday, June 12 · 9:04pm
Thursday, June 13 · 9:04pm
Friday, June 14 · 9:05pm
Saturday, June 15 · 9:05pm
Sunday, June 16 · 9:05pm

Monday, June 17 · 9:06pm
Tuesday, June 18 · 9:06pm
Wednesday, June 19 · 9:06pm
Thursday, June 20 · 9:06pm
Friday, June 21 · 9:07pm

Thursday, June 27 · 9:07pm
Friday, June 28 · 9:07pm
Saturday, June 29 · 9:07pm
Sunday, June 30 · 9:07pm


Monday, July 1 · 9:07pm
Tuesday, July 2 · 9:07pm
Wednesday, July 3 · 9:07pm
Saturday, July 6 · 9:06pm
Sunday, July 7 · 9:06pm

Monday, July 8 · 9:06pm
Tuesday, July 9 · 9:05pm
Wednesday, July 10 · 9:05pm
Thursday, July 11 · 9:05pm

Thursday, July 18 · 9:01pm
Friday, July 19 · 9:01pm
Saturday, July 20 · 9:00pm
Sunday, July 21 · 8:59pm

Monday, July 22 · 8:59pm
Tuesday, July 23 · 8:58pm
Wednesday, July 24 · 8:57pm
Thursday, July 25 · 8:57pm
Friday, July 26 · 8:56pm
Saturday, July 27 · 8:55pm
Sunday, July 28 · 8:54pm

Monday, July 29 · 8:53pm
Tuesday, July 30 · 8:53pm
Wednesday, July 31 · 8:52pm


Thursday, August 1 · 8:51pm
Friday, August 2 · 8:50pm
Saturday, August 3 · 8:49pm
Sunday, August 4 · 8:48pm

Monday, August 5 · 8:47pm
Tuesday, August 6 · 8:46pm
Wednesday, August 7 · 8:45pm
Thursday, August 8 · 8:44pm
Friday, August 9 · 8:43pm
Saturday, August 10 · 8:42pm
Sunday, August 11 · 8:41pm

Monday, August 12 · 8:40pm
Tuesday, August 13 · 8:39pm
Wednesday, August 14 · 8:37pm
Thursday, August 15 · 8:36pm
Friday, August 16 · 8:35pm
Saturday, August 17 · 8:34pm

Thursday, August 22 · 8:28pm
Friday, August 23 · 8:27pm
Saturday, August 24 · 8:26pm
Sunday, August 25 · 8:24pm

Wednesday, August 28 · 8:21pm
Thursday, August 29 · 8:19pm
Friday, August 30 · 8:18pm
Saturday, August 31 · 8:17pm

Listen to the Score


In order to listen to the synchronized score while viewing the work in the park, please download this free AudioFetch app:

Connect to the Wi-Fi network #PastDeposits (password: pastdeposits), launch the AudioFetch app, and play the score.

It is encouraged to listen to the score using AirPods, Bluetooth headphones or a portable Bluetooth speaker.

About the Score

In considering a musical score for Past Deposits, Hubbard / Birchler envisioned the sound of the human voice, without words. They have again collaborated with composer Alex Weston, with whom they previously worked with for their project for the Venice Biennale entitled Flora. The score for Past Deposits is synchronized to the video installation and can be listened to over any personal mobile device in the park whenever Past Deposits is presented.

About the Composer

Alex Weston is a composer of music for concert works and film scores. Notable recent film scores include The Farewell (dir: Lulu Wang, A24), which was included on the shortlist for “Best Original Score” for the 2020 Academy Awards, Expats starring Nicole Kidman (dir. Lulu Wang, Amazon), and documentaries Jane Fonda in Five Acts (HBO) and the Ken Burns produced documentary The Emperor of All Maladies (PBS). Weston’s concert works include commissions from the Lyrica Chamber Music Ensemble, ABCIrque, MADArt Creative, the Kennedy Center, the Venice Biennale and the Obie and Drama League Award winning theater group, Theater in Quarantine.

Performers for the live performance at Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park

Soprano  ·  Gitanjali Mathur
Tenor  ·  Paul Sanchez
Violin 1  ·  Alexis Buffum
Violin 2  ·  Christabel Lin
Viola  ·  Ruben Balboa III
Cello  ·  Ilia De la Rosa
Flute  ·  Kenzie Slottow
Clarinet  ·  Patrick Dolan
Piano  ·  Alex Weston

Performers on the recorded score

Soprano  ·  Elly Kace
Tenor   ·  Tomas Cruz
Violin 1  ·  Alex Weill
Violin 2  ·  Francesca Dardani
Viola  ·  Christiana Liberis
Cello  ·  Reenat Pinchas
Flute  ·  Anna Urrey
Clarinet   ·  Bixby Kennedy
Piano  ·  Alex Weston

Engineered & Mixed by Chris Cubeta, Studio G, Brooklyn, NY


From the onset of working on Past Deposits for Waterloo Greenway, Hubbard / Birchler have envisioned to create a public outreach series, Dialogues, as a way to open up expansive conversations about community, place and history. Respondents in the series are invited to contribute their perspectives about site, context and history; art as archeology; objects and objecthood. Their forthcoming contributions will be posted in a staggered schedule here. Confirmed Dialogues participants are: 

Jana La Brasca: Researcher, writer, and PhD candidate in art history specializing in modern and contemporary art, Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin

Lisa Le Feuvre: Curator, writer, editor and Director, Nancy Holt / Robert Smithson Foundation

Dieter Roelstraete: Curator, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, University of Chicago

Zachary Suri: 2022-2023 Austin Youth Poet Laureate and co-host, co-producer, and poet-in-residence for This is Democracy podcast

Andrés Tijerina: Professor of History at Austin Community College, member Texas State Historical Association and scholar of Tejano history

Javier Wallace: Founder of Black Austin Tours and Postdoctoral Associate in the African and African American Studies Department at Duke University

The wonder of objects
Lisa Le Feuvre

The touch of a hand on a button. The warmth in the palm when a talisman is caressed in the dark pocket. The grip on a bottle of soda. The fingertips on a coin as it moves from hand to hand. The careful placing of a ring on a finger. Touching an object performs a curious alchemy: it brings value. To value something is to establish a set of relations that are at once empirical and emotional. Value formulates currency and sends a charge through the present. Certain objects are made to be tactile. Each touch on this special category of objects—which, when one thinks on it, has no limits—ignites and connects stories.

Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come is a study of the wonder of objects. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler offer a generous invitation to be immersed in sensations and stories of tactility. This gloriously seductive artwork comprises a collection of objects that flow through space. The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory is the home of all kinds of things that have been touched by humans, and then left behind. There are marbles and buttons; fragments of plates and out-of-shape forks; coins and marbles; earrings and glass beads; hinges and horseshoes; a carved rabbit and a cast frog. Each of these objects are scaled to the human hand: they are made to have a relationship with the body. We become so close to everyday objects like these that they become a part of us: part of our physicality, extensions to our surfaces and limbs, and part of our perceptions. There is a momentary feeling of loss that soon passes after the button from the favorite shirt has unthreaded and fallen somewhere unknown, when the plate tumbles to the floor and breaks, the hair comb slips from the bag to the floor, and the bottle cap becomes useless once the contents have been released and the toying with its edges loses its charm. And yet, somehow, these objects hold memories. Narratives expand with each telling and each listening: they start with fact and experience, then persist with fabulation. If they were returned to the hand that once touched them all that time would collapse and, once again, they would become part of us.

Hubbard and Birchler have brought these past deposits into the present by filming each one, returning them at an architectural scale celebrating our relationships with objects. Each evening, as the daylight falls and the nightlight rises, objects once lost along the Waller Creek of Austin return in a looping half-hour dance, swirling to a soundtrack by the composer Alex Weston. As the choreography unfurls, all these stories that have been held in objects are invited in. And, as the blue and yellow and green and red things made of plastic and wood and ceramic and metal and glass make their glorious turns and tumbles at a size taller than the tallest person you could have ever met, all those gentle touches on the hand on an object return to the mind. You might walk past and seek in your pocket with your fingers that glass bead you found in grass on that special afternoon. With that connection, time collapses, and that little worthless thing becomes the most valuable and wonderful object that could be imagined.

Every Marble is a Planet
Jana La Brasca

1. An object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes.
2. A spurious result, effect, or finding in a scientific experiment or investigation, esp. one created by the experimental technique or procedure itself.1 

The objects in Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come are artifacts in both senses. Bottles, coins, keys, finials, crockery fragments and other objects cascade and twirl, liberated from their natural scale and the dark recesses of their permanent repository in the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory’s (TARL) deep storage.2 These objects, unearthed between 2006 and 2008 from fifteen trenches at the site of what is now Waterloo Park and along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas are the multicolored fruits of a series of archaeological investigations undertaken to determine whether there were historically significant contexts that would be disturbed by the excavation of a flood prevention tunnel.

Due to the consistent flooding of the Waller Creek plain, the objects uncovered were neither very old—despite Waller Creek’s millennia of human use and habitation––nor particularly unique. In their reports, researchers concluded the deposits were “out of context,” of “limited integrity,” and only provided “redundant information.”3 Nevertheless, each one bears tiny, runic notations, applied with care in an inconspicuous spot so as not to impede observation of any distinctive feature.4 That these objects have been catalogued and archived at all speaks to their status as artifacts of the second type, evidence not of ancient lifeways, but the conditions that have washed them away.

The frieze-like proportions of the video installation, combined with the seamless, monochromatic black background and the operatic drama of the soundtrack, add a sense of both cosmic scale and historical magnitude, literalized by the objects’ rotation. Like planets, marbles and beads tumble and spin weightlessly at different speeds, as if subject to their own individual gravities. A single glass sphere sometimes shares the screen with another that is much smaller, evoking the orbital radius between a celestial body and its moon.5 Together, the musical and filmic compositions orchestrate rhythms and rests that emulate the whirlpools and diluvial tides that carried the objects to their resting places. Throughout the video, they freely shift scales, in relation to each other and the overall frame, but they are always magnified, revealing subtleties of texture, color, and form that challenge archaeological redundancy with aesthetic intrigue.

The rainbow palette of a climactic moment in the film, in which an ensemble of objects pirouette across the screen in a lateral ROYGBIV array, suggest not only the colors of the LGBTQ+ pride flag, but also the spectrum of visible light. Like opalescent refractions on the surface of one of the film’s glass bottles, each word in the work’s title shifts in relation to the one directly abutting it. Past (bygone) Deposits (sums or materials placed for projected recovery) from (originating in) a (nonspecific) Future (definite) Yet to Come (indefinite). Together, these words form a spiraling referential ouroboros that, like the looping revolutions of the artifacts’ dance, affirm time’s cyclical nature. Everything we touch, the artists suggest, from the teeth of a comb to a pony bead, embodies pasts, futures, and potentials that are equally open-ended.

1 Adapted from definitions from the Merriam Webster and Oxford English Dictionaries.
2 “TWIRL”: one of few verbal messages, like “LIBERTY” (on a penny) and “AUSTIN, TX,” (on a bottle) that the objects transmit through found text in the otherwise wordless film. A piece of a simple toy or cereal box prize, pockmarked with age, follows an old instruction to “twirl,” generating a little vignette of a cartoon housewife smashing a man’s head with a rolling pin. Hubbard and Birchler’s partnership in art and marriage adds to the gag, but its impact is more than biographical: the “twirl’s” activation of a cyclical bonk evokes how the iterative performance of binary gender roles link interpersonal dynamics with mass culture and its histories. The artists are also interested in “the toy as a specimen of proto-cinema,” and in animating it they give a medium-specific nod to the concept of the “motion picture.”
3 Teresa Hubbard, email to the author, May 3, 2024.
4 These characters conform to the standards of the Council of Texas Archeologists and TARL, and they serve to identify, among other things, the object’s find spot. Teresa Hubbard, email to the author, May 3, 2024.
5 The theme of spinning also animates recent video work by contemporary Texas-based artists Virginia Lee Montgomery and Tamara Johnson. For more on the former, see my essay “The Moth Effect” in the catalogue for Montgomery’s solo exhibition Eye Moon Cocoon (Austin: Women and Their Work, 2023). Tamara Johnson and Trey Burns’ collaborative Centrifuge debuted in Johnson’s solo exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum in April 2024.

Deposit: A Penny for These Thoughts
Dieter Roelstraete

I can only assume, somewhat immodestly, that Alexander Birchler and Teresa Hubbard felt compelled to invite me to craft a written response to the spellbinding wonder of their Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come in part because of my proven expertise in theorizing the many connections and convergences between art and archaeology – more specifically, in the curatorial framing of art as archaeology. (For this, on the surface of things, appears to be Past Deposits’ primary thrust.) Indeed, more than ten years after having curated an exhibition titled The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which was accompanied by a catalogue with the subtitle “On the Archaeological Imaginary in Art,” I happily continue to bask, however humbly, in my discreet renown as one of the founding theorists of the “historiographic turn” in contemporary art that Past Deposits partly alludes to. (I’ve often toyed with the notion that some reference to The Way of the Shovel might end up gracing my gravestone – for it is clearly self-evident that I should be buried, returned to the earth, in that “future yet to come”.) What I cannot as readily assume to have spurred Birchler and Hubbard’s invitation, however, is another major intellectual preoccupation that has shaped much of my working life as a curator, namely a now two-decade-long interest in the enigma of thingness and the grounding effort of so-called “thing theory” – yet it is from the perspective of my changing feelings with regards to thingness and thing theory that I now seek to make sense of Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come. (“Deposits” are things first and foremost, and the connectivity between the archaeological optic and the paradigm of thingness is just as self-evident: in thinking about art as archaeology on the one hand and art and thingness on the other hand, I have long been thinking about the same “thing”.)

“Thing theory” emerged in the early 2000s as a subgenre of critical theory concerned with “human-object interactions in literature and culture,” signaling the advent of a deepening desire to reconnect with the material world at a time when both our lives and societies were first starting to buckle under the ever-growing pressures of automation, dematerialization, and digitalization. Thing theory’s leading architect, Bill Brown, famously posited the following in one of the field’s founding texts:

“We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the window gets filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relationship to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation. As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture – above all, what they disclose about us), but we only catch a glimpse of things.”1

Enter the mystique of the so-called enigmatical-ness of things that has proven so fertile in 21st century art production (which has witnessed such dramatically increased and/or renewed interest in craft-based modes of manufacturing like ceramics, fiber arts – and good old-fashioned painting): the ineffable aura of thingness – a sexy species of dysfunction – is what sets the work of art apart from mere objecthood. The work of art, in this reading, is figured as the supreme, ultimate thing – das Ding an sich, even: its muteness and “mere” materiality, its opacity and obstinacy a cipher of recalcitrance and resistance in a semantic economy predicated on the frictionless flow of digits and commodities, “content” and “intel”. And some of these notions obviously animate the cosmic ballet of surreally enlarged objets trouvés in Past Deposits (the ludic homage to the timeless waltzing spaceship scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is much appreciated): the hypnotic slowness of their playful little dance routine seems to hint at the essential unknowability and impenetrability of the “order of things” – a scheme in which the work of art is of course posited as the least knowable (comprehensible, legible, sensible) of all things. (A popular archeological fantasy enjoys imagining excavators of the future coming across objects so puzzling and inscrutable that they just end up grouping them under the inherently meaningless rubric of “art”.)

However, my present-day mood is much less tolerant of the various resistances presumably put up by the world of objects and things, the realm of matter and “stuff” (“production”), and that, too, I see allegorized in Birchler and Hubbard’s elegiac paean to the forgotten and overlooked; a work of art that can also be viewed, to be brutally honest, as “just” a mere cataloguing of waste and trash, flotsam and jetsam, of the kinds of things that may cut and gash and possibly infect, for instance, or of pollutants and invasive species and other unhappy relics of the oppressive effects of mankind’s ever-tightening grip on both space and time, the most painfully symbolic trace of which must surely be the seeming immortality and indestructibility of money’s lowest common denominator: the penny.2

1 Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 1 (Autumn 2001), pp. 1-22.
2 Money: it’s the other supreme, ultimate thing. (This is a can of worms I must forcefully decline opening at this point in time, though I do wish to send the reader packing with the opening and closing lines of one of the best poems ever written on the subject, by the German littérateur Durs Grünbein: “One thing never left lying around is money. Whenever you see anything / Round and glinting on the pavement, heads or tails, you stoop to conquer. (…) Oh, to be a child again, grubbing in real feces.” In Ashes for Breakfast: Selected Poems, trans. Michael Hofmann (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), 106.

Digging for Our Stories
Javier Wallace

“A home will be a glad place for children to grow up in. It will build up virtue and promote strong family ties. A family who grow up on rented land never feel at home. But let a man have a home, no matter how poor it is, freedom will dwell about the lowliest hut; the sum of heaven will dance about the humblest door; the rains of heaven will fall softly on the poor man’s roof. And as the owner stands in his own door he looks upon the world with a feeling of manly pride; he looks upon his children at play within the limits of his own home, he will rejoice in his heart, and not cross or surly land owner can stop the play of his children, or make the father feel uneasy lest the owner should be offended.” 1

I dug up this passage from Texas’ first African American newspaper just as I dug through my childhood memories in search of Waterloo Park. Waterloo Park lives as a memory in my mind. The park reminds me of days seeking adventure on field trips, walking from St. Mary’s Cathedral School around the corner of 10th Street and San Jacinto. In those early elementary years, I can still remember the Texas State workers sitting at the park benches eating their lunches and more than likely gossiping.

I still remember racing down the steep outer edges of the park, descending into the crater that lined Waller Creek’s edge. I can see the bricked trail along the creek, which served as the makeshift housing of Austin’s unhoused. This is the Waterloo Park of the 1990s that lives in my mind.

Yet, with all the dirt surrounding me and with natural childhood curiosity, I can’t recall pressing my fingers into the dark brown soil, digging and finding any objects. Maybe the teacher’s warnings about being pricked by used syringes prevented us from exploring beyond the park’s dark-soiled surface. But now, when observing the objects and artifacts unearthed from around the creek, I pause and wonder. What if we had unearthed an object or artifact that could have spoken about who lived or played around this watershed before?

We know much of the 19th-century settling near and on the banks of Waller Creek was done by Black people. Specifically, they were newly emancipated people making decisions in freedom after June 19, 1865. This was a pivotal moment in Austin’s history, especially regarding the city’s racialized residential development. Research has demonstrated that residential patterns around the watershed are a product of engineered environmental racism2.

Yet, we can’t solely attempt to understand the area through the lens of white racial capitalism. We must also turn to the folks who were making profound statements in the world, like the excerpt at the start of this essay. We must see them as subjects of their own histories and not mere objects of oppression. We have to imagine. We have to suppose. We wonder, all within reason, about these people. That is one of the few ways to make them come alive again.

I wonder about, suppose, and imagine the hands that touched the artifacts that were unearthed in the early 2000s digs. Did those hands belong to someone who was once forced to toil the vast white seas of blooming cotton? Did those same hands connect to the body and person of someone who left that plantation in Bastrop and tried out their freedom in Austin? Did the hands that stitched buttons to their children’s clothes belong to a parent who held The Freedman’s Press, gazing from their own door as they looked upon their children at play within the limits of their own home?

I think about these things now, realizing that I couldn’t have imagined that I was playing in the park on flood-stained soils where Black families’ homes once stood. I believe the parents of past centuries still stood in their doors, watching me freely play, knowing that one day, today, I would help tell their stories along Waller Creek. Just to let someone know they were there.

1 The Freedman’s Press. Saturday, August 1, 1868. ( accessed June 30, 2024), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
2 See Katherine Leah Pace, “Forgetting Waller Creek: an environmental history of race, parks, and planning in Downtown Austin, Texas,” Journal of Southern History (2021), pp. 603-644.


This commission demonstrates Waterloo Greenway’s dedication to connecting the community with the rich history of Waller Creek and the people that have lived and worked alongside it. Waterloo Greenway strives to celebrate local, national, and international artists of the highest caliber throughout our parks system. Thank you to our generous Past Deposits from a Future Yet to Come supporters for bringing this exhibition to life.

Lead support provided by Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation, Suzanne Deal Booth, and the Still Water Foundation.

Major support provided by Charles Attal, Deborah Dupré, Jeanne and Mickey Klein, Kathleen Irvin Loughlin and Chris Loughlin, Susan Marcus, Chris Mattsson, Lauren and Tom Moorman, Lora Reynolds and Colin Doyle, Susan Vaughan Foundation, and Gail and Rodney Susholtz.

Support provided by Caroline and Brian Haley,  Elizabeth and Rob Rogers, and the Wolff Family Foundation.

Additional support provided by Rosemary and Russell Douglass. 

Special Thanks
Skye Ashbrook, Adam Cicero, Rachel Feit, Brad Jones, Bill Haddad, Graham Reynolds, MacKenzie Stevens, Marybeth S. Tomka, and Alex Weston

Waterloo Greenway Staff

Waterloo Greenway Art Committee: Suzanne Deal Booth, Caroline Haley, Jeanne Klein, Chris Mattsson, Lauren Moorman, Xavier Pena, Thomas Phifer, Cherise Smith, and Melba Whatley.

Grateful Acknowledgement for Research Support
College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler’s work is represented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles and Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin.