Reliquary for the River Styx

Reliquary for the River Styx , a mixed media installation with performance, was part of Celebration of the Arts, a juried show, and installed in a vacant warehouse in Emeryville, CA, October 1989. Photo courtesy MAFISHCO. Archival video below

About the work

One of the five rivers of the Underworld from classical mythology, the River Styx courses through Dante’s Inferno dividing Upper Hell (sins of incontinence) from Lower Hell (sins of violence and fraud). Beyond the Styx rises the fortified city of Dis through which Dante's sinners must pass to the Nether Hell. Controlling the entrance to Dis, Rebel Angels signal and counter-signal from atop the ramparts across to Phlegyas, mad boatman of the Styx, to ferry new arrivals from upper to lower shore. As the procession of souls is endless, so is the syncopated chain of physical signals and vocal counter-signals - a trafficking of souls in 9/8 rhythm (nine was a number to which Dante attached symbolic importance for the recurrent nine-year intervals between significant events of his life). Dante’s Styx is a filthy marsh whose stagnant waters collect from its source the Acheron in Upper Hell. Trapped below are the souls of the wrathful and the sullen. The gagging choruses of their wretched litanies filter through the bubbling mud to reach the stinking water’s surface and decay upon the ears of the damned in Phlegyas's boat.

Elements for The Reliquary for the River Styx, 86”(h) x 48”(w) x 144”(deep), include a genuflection bench, a reliquary and a video tower made from aluminum, wood, plexiglass, foam, fabric, and glycerine, and portraying the Styx, the Rebel Angels, the City of Dis, and Phlegyas’s boat. The mixed-media installation features audio, video, bubbling mud, and the potential for interactive performance. The set pieces are modeled on the stage architecture seen in Giotto’s frescoes in Italy. Viewers were invited to kneel upon the boat cushion to view the Satyr on a monitor seen through the bubbles. The work continues themes presented in the 1988 MAFISHCO staged work Vice Versa. The themes are reiterated in a new performance work the same year, Room of Dis.

This installation and performance are dedicated to the memory of Barry Valentino, exhibit designer at the Exploratorium, San Francisco. Elements of the work were developed while MA FISH CO directors Fisher and Hughes held a 1987 residency in the Exploratorium’s Artist Research Program. Additional support came from the San Francisco State University Interarts Program, Lynn Hershman director, and the Alameda County Art Commission.


VHS site documentation, Dominica Kriz, performer.


  • Installation Design and Construction: Jerry Carniglia
  • Concept, Script, Choreography: Margaret Fisher
  • Video: Margaret Fisher
  • Music and audio collage: Robert Hughes
  • Technical Director: Barry Valentino
  • Performer: Dominica Kriz
  • Year: 1989

Performance History

  • Installed: Emeryville Celebration of the Arts, Vacant warehouse, Emeryville, November, 1989
  • Performance: Emeryville Celebration of the Arts, November 10, 1989.