City of Alexandria Public Art Residency at AlexRenew

The City of Alexandria’s Public Art Program, in collaboration with AlexRenew, developed the AlexRenew Public Art Residency to invite artists to engage deeply with the work of AlexRenew and its RiverRenew project.

The first AlexRenew Public Art artist-in-residence is New York-based artist Sto Len, who has returned to his hometown of Alexandria to explore the community’s natural and man-made water systems. During his residency, Sto will create a new series of artwork entitled RENEWAL. RENEWAL aims to renew our relationship to local water by providing an opportunity for the public to engage with waterfront sites in new ways that both raise awareness and engagement around the city’s water, especially areas connected to the future location of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew tunnel project.

Since September 2019, Sto has been spending time at AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant in Alexandria’s Southwest Quadrant, to learn about how wastewater is treated, where it comes from, where it goes, and its role in Alexandria’s ecosystem. Working with scientists, engineers, and conservationists, Sto has developed a unique understanding of Alexandria’s water systems and created RENEWAL to share and learn more with the community.

As a printmaker, Sto collects the imprints of the world around us, from the natural patterns in water to the abstract shapes of trash picked up along the Potomac River. Employing traditional analog print techniques such as marbling, block printing, and cyanotype, Sto updates these methods by using pollution, bacteria and waste as art materials. This repurposed visual language documents the landscape and begins to unpack the environmental impact of humans by revealing what often goes unseen or ignored.


In June the City of Alexandria invited the community to join artist Sto Len in his exploration of Alexandria’s waterways by learning to make art that focuses attention on our water systems. Sto hosted two virtual workshops that focused on two techniques he uses to create art:

Suminagashi: Meditative Printmaking with Water
Suminagashi, or “floating ink,” is an ancient Japanese printmaking technique that dates back to the 12th century. Sumi Ink is a black calligraphy ink made of natural soot from pine trees in the mountains of Japan and one of its wonderful properties is that it naturally floats on water.  It was used by monks as a meditative practice to create beautiful patterns on paper for scrolls and prints. The key to suminagashi is forming a bond with water in a manner that is more of a collaboration than a controlled technique.

Gyotaku Printmaking with Recycled Home Materials
Gyotaku, or “fish impression,” is a Japanese printmaking technique that uses sumi ink to create an impression print from an actual fish. This was used to document the catches of fishers and would act like a trophy to hang on their wall. For this workshop, participants raided their households for materials to create prints with instead of using a fish. Each object creates a unique imprint that can also be stamped into patterns on paper or fabric. A print can be a document of your daily life right now; a leaf you got from a walk, a used food packaging from a quarantine recipe, or just some stuff that has been laying around the house (you can use a fish if you have one). You can create cards to send to loved ones or finally get around to decorating those boring curtains. Make something with what you’ve got while we are spending more time in our respective homes. Let’s build community while making things together.

Sto will host two more virtual workshops coming in August and September. We will post the details right here on this page, so stay tuned.