Imagining Water, #2: Flooded McDonald’s

This post was originally published in the blog, Artists and Climate Change. It is the second in a year-long series that I am writing on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme. 

Flooded McDonald’s

Although created nine years ago by the Danish three-man art collective Superflex, the haunting film Flooded McDonald’s is every bit as relevant today, if not more so, as we recall with horror the recent television coverage of unprecedented water damage caused by mega-hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Just 21 minutes in length, Flooded McDonald’s was produced by Propeller Group (Ho Chi Minh City) in association with Matching Studio (Bangkok), and co-produced by the South London Gallery, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark) and Oriel Mostyn Gallery (Wales).

Superflex

Superflex, founded in 1993 by Bjornstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger, and Rasmus Nielsen, calls their art projects “tools” that they feel can be used in many ways and in many contexts beyond the art world. As they describe it, Superflex “challenges the role of the artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalization and systems of power… with art work that addresses serious social and cultural concerns.” In Flooded McDonald’s, Superflex has taken on the topic of rising tides, a now-uncontested result of global warming, using a life-size replica of a McDonald’s restaurant that gradually floods with water. The British art critic Charles Darwent summarized the film by stating: “Imagine if a rising tide caused by global warming claimed the very thing that contributed to it.”

The Set

The set of Flooded McDonald’s was created in meticulous detail over a two-week period in an empty swimming pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Eerily devoid of staff or customers, it includes a fiberglass, life-size Ronald McDonald, real Big Macs, counters, freezers, banquettes, hundreds of paper cups, cardboard hamburger containers, fries, sodas, napkins, trays, signage and all the accoutrements of the real thing. For 21 minutes, the restaurant is gradually flooded with 80,000 liters or 21,000 gallons of water.

mcflood_still_detail_1.jpgStill image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

What Happens 

At first, the water seeps in slowly under the door. The accompanying sound track is similar to the sound of the gentle lapping of the sea against the shore. Gradually, the level of the water rises, taking with it everything in its path. But even as the rising water fills the space, the scene is not what we expect of a forceful, full-fledge flood. As Superflex describes it, the film portrays a flood that is “destructive but in a mild, Scandinavian way.”

Although the artists admit that they scripted most of the shots for the film, in the end, the water “does what it wants,” creating unexpected and sometimes ironic images: the fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald topples over and waves to the camera, bringing to mind the iconic image of Saddam Hussein’s statue, arm upraised, crashing to the ground in Baghdad and marking the end of an era; a plastic sign reading “wet floor” floats by, an understated reference to the way in which many government leaders have purposely underestimated the dangers of global warming.

mcflooded_production_1.jpgProduction image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

The random beauty amidst the destruction is evident throughout the film. With its ability to reflect what is above and below the surface, water is its own work of art. Camera shots taken underwater reveal a murky world where oil, French fries, paper debris, bits of food, and even furniture form pleasing shadows and abstract images.

dsc02991.jpgStill underwater image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex

So What Does It All Mean? 

In a video titled Why We Flooded McDonald’s, created by the Louisiana Channel, a non-profit website based at the Louisiana Museum of Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, the Superflex artists “walk” the viewer through the film and talk about their artistic intentions.

In their narration, the artists describe the film as an “end of the world scenario,” a “conversation” on global warming that uses the most famous fast-food chain in the world as a powerful symbol of corporate greed and consumerism. In what to me is a brilliant metaphor for climate change in general and rising tides in particular, they state that “when you add water, you can’t move backwards from what it does.” Like climate change itself, once unleashed, flood water destroys everything in its path.

In preparation for writing this post, I sent an email to Superflex asking them how they feel about the film nine years later. I received the following response: “Flooded McDonald’s hints at the consumer-driven power and influence and impotence of large multinational companies in the face of climate change, questioning with whom ultimate responsibility lies.”

Where to see Flooded McDonald’s

If you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch the film at UCLA’s Hammer Museum through October 15. Otherwise, check out the Louisiana Channel video Why We Flooded McDonald’s for film clips and commentary by the artists or watch a brief film clip here.

(Top image: Still image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.)

Update on our ‘Plastic Seas’

Microplastic and its Impact 

In several posts since 2013, I have written about the overwhelming amount of plastic in our seas that contaminates the water and endangers ocean species. (see Plastic, Plastic Everywhere and A Global Ocean Tragedy, for example) In this update to the previous pieces, I would like to highlight a February 1, 2017 article in Scientific American entitled, “Sea Unworthy: A Personal Journey into the Pacific Garbage Patch,” by Erica Cirino. In her record of her 23-day experience with environmental scientists on a Danish research vessel traveling through what is known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch, she confirms the existence of microplastic at a much greater depth than was previously hypothesized, potentially increasing the current estimates of 165 million tons of plastic in the oceans to significantly more than that.

What is microplastic? Microplastic is the category of plastic representing the smallest and most toxic pieces in the seas, much of which is too tiny to be seen without magnification. The vast amounts of plastic produced on land reaches the oceans as a result of wind, dumping and run-off from rivers and streams. As they break into little pieces from the constant motion of the waves and are exposed to UV radiation, larger pieces of plastic become smaller and smaller.

Microplastic

Microplastic

Fish eat large quantities of microplastic, which they confuse with plankton, their normal source of food. As Danish scientist, Kristin Syberb, described, “It’s the smallest fish that eat the most plastic and become toxic. Then the middle-sized fish eat those smallest fish and become a little more toxic. Then the larger fish eat those middle-sized fish and become even more toxic. And then we eat the largest fish…”

Although there has yet to be a study measuring the levels and impact of plastic in human beings, scientists do know that plastic causes abnormalities in fish, resulting in reduced size and death. Noting the serverity of the problem, the article’s author further relates how “scientists now predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.”

All is not lost, however. Significant efforts are being made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and numerous non-profits, in the form of grants and programs, for education on the plastics problems, cleanup, prevention and research. The goal is to involve and engage large segments of the population around the world to reverse this horrendous, man-made problem.

 

What’s Happening to Our Sand?

Why Are There Sand Shortages Across the Globe?

As I was perusing the internet for articles on environmental issues recently, I came across a June, 2016 op-ed piece in The New York Times, entitled, The World’s Disappearing Sand by Vince Beiser, a journalist who is writing a book on the topic. For our work with The Wave and because of my own personal interests, I regularly follow many blogs, pod casts, articles, films, research projects, exhibitions and installations related to: global warming and it’s impact on water sources; water shortages and the reality of looming water wars; the proliferation of garbage in our oceans; and many other topics related to water that I have subsequently addressed here, as well as information on other environmental threats. This was the first time, however, that I had seen a reference to sand as a disappearing, vital resource. Given that I thought I had had a basic awareness of at least the major environmental topics of the day, I was both surprised at my total ignorance of this critical situation and highly disturbed by the nature of the problem itself.

Looking further, I found a trailer for Sand Wars, a comprehensive 2013 documentary by the award winning filmmaker, Denis Delestric; a TED Talk video, entitled, “Let’s Talk About Sand,” with Mr. Delestric; and hundreds of other fascinating print and digital references.

 Sand: The Major Ingredient of Concrete


Sand: The Primary Ingredient of Concrete

Here’s what I learned.

  • As it turns out, after water, sand is the second most consumed natural resource on Earth!
  • Why? Because sand is the primary ingredient for concrete, the material used in 80% of our built environment, i.e. for the construction of apartment buildings, hospitals, shopping centers, sidewalks, parking lots and just about any other physical component of city life.
  • Sand is also used in wine, dehydrated food, cosmetics, computer chips, plastics, windows, roads, etc.
  • The demand for sand, especially in the developing world, has increased astronomically as the global population has grown and as more and more people move into cities.
  • As Vince Beiser reported in “The World’s Disappearing Sand,” “China used more cement from 2011 to 2013 than the United States used in the entire 20th century.” Beiser also noted that “according to the United Nations Environment Program, in 2012 alone, the world used enough concrete to build a wall 89 feet high and 89 feet wide around the Equator.” The world demand is currently 40 billion tons of sand every year.
  • But sand, like water, is a finite resource. Although it’s found in abundance in deserts, desert sand is unusable for making concrete – the grains of sand found in deserts are round and smooth, rather than jagged, and don’t stick together when added to gravel and cement. That leaves only the sand available in rivers, beaches, and quarries,
  • In order to secure the sand that is needed, companies and local entrepreneurs are stripping riverbeds, beaches and floodplains. In places like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Liberia, Nigeria and India, sand mining is destroying ecosystems, damaging coral reefs, lowering the water table and causing serious erosion along many shorelines. 75% – 90% of the world’s beaches are retreating as a result of erosion caused by dredging for sand along the ocean floor and coastlines. Sand mining has been documented in 73 countries and on 5 continents.
  • A whole industry of sand smugglers or sand thieves are extracting sand illegally in places where governments have regulated resources. People are actually being killed for sand in India by a ‘Sand Mafia.’
 Beach Sand Mining in Sierra Leone


Beach Sand Mining in Sierra Leone

 Sand Being Smuggled from the Krishna Riverbed, India, 2016


Sand Smugglers Along the Krishna Riverbed, India, 2016

  • In order to meet the on-going demand for sand around the world, efforts are being made to find alternatives to this vital resource. Using recycled glass that has been ground into fine particles is one such attempt at replenishing the sand in our rivers and beaches.
  • Additional efforts including conservation, stricter prohibition of sand mining and the development of other alternatives to sand must surely be part of the solution to this global crisis.

 

Water Wars Hit Home

Four months ago, citizens of the 8 member towns that receive their public water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a public, non-profit corporation that supplies water and sewer services in the Hartford, CT area, (where I live), learned that a secret deal had been made between the Niagara Bottling Company and the MDC itself, affecting the future of the public water supply.  The MDC has agreed to provide Niagara Bottling with up to 1.8 MILLION gallons of water a day at rates that are less than what public consumers currently pay and did so without public input. The water purchased from the MDC by Niagara will be bottled in a plant they are currently building in the town of Bloomfield and ultimately sold all over the country at a profit of billions of dollars/year.

When they learned about the MDC’s deal with the Niagara Bottling company, Hartford area residents in two citizen action groups, West Hartford Concerned Citizens and BloomfieldCitizens.org (and later, Save Our Water CT), mounted an enormous effort to protest the proposed water sale. At the heart of the ensuing debates were the fundamental questions, “Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply and who gets to decide how that water is allocated?”

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At a time when water has become a most precious commodity, these are questions that are currently being addressed all over the world. In his April, 2015 article in Time Magazine entitled, “The World Will Soon Be at War Over Water,” James Fergusson identifies 7 locations in Iraq, Turkey, China, The Congo, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine already engaged in serious conflicts over water. On April 25, 2016, just one year later, Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan reported in The Hill in an article entitled, “Clean Water Crisis Threatens US,” that “The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism” and that “Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough.”

What enraged and motivated the citizens in the Greater Hartford, CT area to protest the sale of such a large volume of its water supply was what Bloomfiled resident Brad Klein, called “the commodification of a resource that has become a profitable industry,” without regard for the needs of the local population in times of drought, which, in an era of climate change, are becoming more and more inevitable. Partnering with other CT environmental groups, Save Our Water CT, worked with State Senator Beth Bye to introduce SB 422, a bill that would place the needs of local residents first in times of water emergencies and would prohibit the sale of local water to other industrial clients at a marked discount.

On Wednesday, April 27, Elena and I joined their effort by installing thousands of pieces of The Wave from 20 previous sites all over the Northeast in the shape of a reservoir on the grounds of the CT State Capitol. Legislators and visitors entering the building were confronted by a brilliant body of ‘Waves’ representing in a powerful and visceral way how we are all connected by our fundamental need for water.

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 Citizens at the CT State Capitol 'Making a Wave" April 27, 2016


Citizens at the CT State Capitol ‘Making a Wave”
April 27, 2016

 State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016


State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016

Although it passed in the Senate, SB 422 did not ultimately receive enough support to be voted upon in the House before the end of the session. Paid lobbyists hired by Niagara and by the MDC overpowered the citizen effort. Save Our Water CT is not going away, though. They are determined to come back in 2017 with another bill and stronger ranks. Regardless of the outcome of SB 422, their voices emphasized how important a thoughtful state water plan, currently under development, will be to the security and well-being of CT.

For information on the latest news concerning water in the Greater Hartford, CT area, please visit BloomfieldCitizens.org.

Artwork on Climate Change Increasing Worldwide

Because I ‘follow’ Artists and Climate Change, the New York-based project devoted to tracking art work all over the world in all media devoted to climate change as well as other media outlets covering climate change, I have been noticing a steadily increasing number of artists that are focusing on this important topic. Just this week, Artists and Climate Change’s Facebook page posted references to four powerful projects/artists in the Netherlands, Australia, England and the USA that are calling attention to the effects of melting glaciers, rising seas, increasing temperatures and dramatic storms.

In the Netherlands, a country in which almost one third of the land is below sea level, the water authority in the town of Westervoort commissioned designer, Daan Roosegaarde to create an installation that highlighted the dangers of coastal flooding in order to reinforce the constant threat from rising waters to a population that they perceived as being complacent. Using LED lighting that projected waves over a floodplain to simulate a virtual flood, Roosegaarde’s installation was so effective that neighboring residents who witnessed the pilot version of the project called the police to report a break in the local dike. The swirling patterns within the light experienced by the 20,000 visitors who attended the installation over five nights emphasized the extreme beauty as well as the inherent danger of water.

 Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde's Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands


Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde’s Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands

In Australia, Climarte: arts for a safer climate, a non-profit organization established to develop arts events and an alliance of artists and groups that advocate for “immediate, effective and creative action on climate change,” is sponsoring an exhibition entitled, Nature/Revelation, from April 11- May 17, 2015 at the Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. The exhibition includes Australian and international artists, addresses the extraordinary beauty of the natural world and is a component of the Art+Climate=Change 2015 festival that will encompass additional exhibitions in galleries and museums as well as lectures and forums on climate change.

 Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942


Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942 in Nature/Revelation

In England, The Guardian, a prominent British national daily newspaper, devoted a major series of stories to aspects of climate change and used a copy of British artist, Anthony Gormley’s climate change piece, “Connection,” to accompany an extract from This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. Climate, a recent book on climate change by Naomi Klein. The image was wrapped around the print version of the paper and also distributed at a major climate change march in London on March 7. According to the Guadian, Gormley’s work of art “shows a disturbing silhouette of a giant body against a deep glow which could be manmade or natural. Both the body and the landscape appear to be equally toxic, raising questions of how humanity is impacting the planet through climate change.”

 Anthony Gormley, "Connection," Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000


Anthony Gormley, “Connection,” Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000

And, in the United States, The Orlando Museum of Art is hosting Maya Lin: A History of Water, a major exhibition by internationally renowned American architect, designer and artist. The exhibition, on view from January 29, – May 10, 2015, includes sculptures, drawings, installations and multimedia work addressing aspects of the disappearing natural world. In reference to her work on the earth’s ecology, she says, “I believe that art, at times, can look at a subject differently and in doing so, can get people to pay closer attention.

 Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.


Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Climarte‘s call to action on the topic of climate change effectively summarizes the artist’s inherent role in society at large as a catalyst for change:

“Throughout history the arts have played a major role in recording and reflecting the state of human society and its relationship with the natural world. Indeed, for some historical periods it is only through the arts that we have been able to learn about our past. But sometimes we have also needed the arts to be a catalyst for change, a call to action, a pricking of humanity’s collective conscience. We believe that now is one of those times.”

 

Artists and Climate Change

The Latest News on Climate Change: Not Good

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for assessing climate change under the auspices of The United Nations, has just released its Fifth Assessment Report, entitled, Climate Change 2014, the most comprehensive analysis on the topic ever produced. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world contributed to the report, which identifies the impact of climate change in great detail, includes data on melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more frequent and more severe storms, warming temperatures, etc., and proposes significant interventions/mitigations for policymakers. Here are just a few of the highlighted statements included in the report:

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.

 The Future?


The Future?

 Artists and Climate Change

So what’s a person to do? While politicians debate, scientists produce reports and journalists describe the issues and potential solutions, there are some writers, visual artists, musicians and dancers who are using the power of the arts to call attention to the very real threats resulting from climate change. In the September, 2014 post, I highlighted the compelling work of Spanish installation and street artist, Isaac Cordal, whose tiny, white collar bureaucrats convene endlessly on the subject while they are literally being submerged in water.

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator originally from Montreal who is currently living and working in New York. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle, an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that explore the impact of climate change on the eight countries of the Arctic. Ms. Bilodeau’s blog, entitled, Artists and Climate Change: contributions from the artistic community on the vexing problem of climate change, identifies scores of artists working in dance, design, film, installation, literature, music, painting, performance, photography, poetry, public art, sculpture, sound, textile and theater, who are using their voices to increase awareness and effect meaningful change.

One particularly compelling example of the work documented on Artists and Climate Change is cellist, Daniel Crawford’s composition, A Song of Our Warming PlanetUsing surface temperature data between 1880 and 2012 and assigning low or high notes according to the yearly recorded temperature, he has created a musical representation of climate change. Listen to the remarkable piece here.

 Daniel Crawford in a photo clip from "A Song For Our Warming Planet."


Daniel Crawford in a photo clip from “A Song For Our Warming Planet.”

Artists don’t generally sit in meetings that generate political change but, as Chantal Bilodeau puts it so eloquently in her blog on Artists and Climate Change,”what artists have to say about climate change will shape our values and behavior for years to come. For that reason alone, we should pay attention.”

 

 

 

 

The Wave on You Tube

As I have reported in previous posts, Elena and I recently completed Wave installations in four public libraries throughout CT in partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium and as part of an Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant Project, from The CT Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development. The libraries included The Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, The New Haven Free Public Library, The New London Public Library and The Willimantic Public Library.

In order to document how The Wave significantly impacts public discourse on water and the way in which it succeeds in bringing communities together on a topic of local, national and international importance, we hired videographer, Nild Sansone of LastingImage.com to film the project in action at The Willimantic (CT) Public Library. We were very impressed with the thoughtful responses to our questions about water issues and personal connections to water that we received from the hundreds of participants that flooded (pun intended) the library on an afternoon/evening in June of 2014. If was difficult to select from among the many powerful, sensitive and heart-felt quotes and images in order to keep the video at a manageable 4 minutes. So here it is. We’d love your feedback on the video and on any of your own water-related thoughts and comments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjJhCAl-Mt8

 Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library


Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library

The Blog: One and a Half Years Later and
Artist Isaac Cordal’s “Cement Eclipses”

The Blog, One and a Half Years Later

When I started this blog entitled, “On Water and Public Art” in February of 2013, my intention was to provide a running conversation on: (1) the progress of The Wave, our interactive, public art project on water; (2) information on current global water issues; and (3) commentary about other public art projects that address timely contemporary subjects.

Over the past three years, as The Wave has traveled to four states, Elena and I have engaged over 6000 participants in the creation of 16 permanent and temporary installations in museums, galleries, schools, libraries and other public venues. In addition to following our travels with The Wave, the blog has addressed such varied topics as ‘public art as community building,” “public art as political awareness,” “science fiction and water,” “water wars,” “visual symbols of water,” and “the color of water in nature and art.” The Blog has also highlighted important public art projects including, Lily Yeh’s transformational interactive mosaics, James Bridle’s troubling Drone Shadows, Simon Beck’s monumental Snow Art, Andres Amador’s impermanent Sand Art and the 36 artists whose work on the enormous amount of debris in the ocean became the important, traveling exhibition, Gyre: The Plastic Ocean. Today’s post introduces another innovative public artist and his on-going urban street project entitled, Cement Eclipses.

 Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 - 1088 Showing Traditional Symbols of Water


Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 – 1088, Showing How Artists in the 11th Century Represented Water

Isaac Cordal’s ‘Take’ on Political Leadership and Climate Change

Isaac Cordal is a Spanish installation and street artist who is currently living and working in London. Cordal creates tiny cement figures (8-10 inches tall) cast from clay sculptures that he calls ‘Cement Eclipses.’ He places them in urban settings throughout Europe in order to shed light on current political and social issues. In his series, “Follow the Leaders,” Cordal has arranged the tiny heads and partial torsos of the balding, white collar businessmen in shallow ‘puddles’ of water as if they are almost completely submerged by rising flood waters. Cordal’s work suggests that while leaders around the world endlessly debate how to address the predictions that sea levels will rise up to three feet by the end of the century, permanent damage from climate change is already taking place around the world. Left to their own devices, this is how these ‘leaders’ will soon look if they don’t act decisively. His installations are examples of highly effective public art as political awareness.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," London, 2011.


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” London, 2011.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," Berlin, 2014


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” Berlin, 2014

Water Is…

Observations About Water From Wave Participants at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The primary goals of The Wave as a traveling, interactive, public art project are to call attention to the critical importance of water in all of our lives and to foster a sense of common connections through our shared responsibility to protect this vital resource. As they cut a piece of recyclable, polycarbonate film into a wave-like shape of their own interpretation and ‘connect’ it to a cord flowing through the installation site, participants are contributing to an ever-growing, dynamic wave in brilliant colors, emphasizing the beauty, power and essential nature of water.

 Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.


Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.

On July 12, 2014, The Wave was installed at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT as part of the Education Department’s monthly Second Saturdays for Families program. (See July 15 blog post for a description and images of the installation) In order to encourage personal connections to water and The Wave installation, the education staff of the Wadsworth invited Wave participants of all ages to respond in writing to four prompts about water: (1) I like water because…(3) My best water memory is…(3) Water is… and (4) Water feels…

The answers to the prompts emphasize how water evokes vivid memories of special people and places and appeals to all of the senses: sound, touch, taste, hearing and sight. Here are some samples provided by adults and children of all ages:

I like water because…

It is delicious!

It’s fun.

I can play with it.

It helps us survive.

It makes loud waves.

 The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

My best water memory is…

The beach near my grandmother’s house in Bandra, Bombay, India. We used to play on the beach and rocks as kids and sadly, there is no more beach left.

My dad teaching me to swim in the Pacific Ocean: lesson #1 – just plunge in; lesson #2 – keep your mouth closed.  Thank you Daddy!

When I went to White Waters Over Georgia and I was in the wave pool in 8 feet. It was so cool!

Fish jumping in the water.

 Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

Water is and feels…

Terrific!

Cold

Squishy

Send us your responses to these prompts and we’ll add them to our growing collection!

 Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014


Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014

 

Science Fiction and Water

Science Fiction as a Speculative Genre

As a visual artist, I’ve always loved science fiction. I am drawn (pun intended) to the highly imaginative worlds that science fiction authors create. By definition, science fiction contains inventive settings and other-wordly technology that take place in the future, including alternate universes, time travel and extraterrestrial life. American, Robert Heinlein, (1907 – 1988), often considered the ‘dean of science fiction writers’ and author of such classics as Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, defined the genre as “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Good science fiction challenges us to consider the physical, moral and political consequences of scientific and technological inventions, social structures and human behavior.

 Cover Image of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein


Cover Image of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Science Fiction Writers = Prophets of the Future.

As speculators about the future, science fiction writers have often predicted and influenced real-world technological inventions. In 1950, in his I, Robot short stories, Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) described a new world in which man-made machines called robots carried out routine, human tasks. In so doing, he foresaw the development of what became an entire scientific field of study called robotics and inspired generations of readers to embrace his vision.  Similarly science fiction writer, Jules Verne, (1828 – 1905) realized the potential for the components of water (hydrogen and oxygen) to be used as fuel and predicted the technology of fuel cells that are currently being used to power clean energy, hybrid automobiles. The Science Channel has created a fascinating series entitled, Prophets of Science Fiction, that features 10 science fiction writers, including Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov, who imagined future scientific ideas that have become reality.

 Cover of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov


Cover of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Why Bring Up Science Fiction in a Blog About The Wave, Water and Public Art?

Right now I am re-reading the epic classic, Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965), considered to be one of the best science fiction novels of all time. Dune is set on a hostile desert planet called Arrakis that is populated by the Fremen, a native, human population. The Fremen have complex rituals and systems that revolve around the value and conservation of water. The preciousness of water to them is so critical to their consciousness and their very existence that they consider the acts of spitting and shedding tears as signs of reverence to the receiver because those who respond in this way are willingly releasing what is desperately needed to live. The Fremen even make what we would consider to be harsh life and death choices based on how they see the survival needs of their whole community: they do not waste water on the wounded or fatally ill.

Reading Dune this summer, while severe drought conditions in the American west are reported daily on the news, has made me wonder whether or not Frank Herbert created such an extreme scenario about an almost waterless society in order to force our attention on the very real threats that exist should we not: conserve the dwindling water resources we have on Earth right now; eradicate the pollution that poisons our oceans, lakes and rivers and provide potable water more effectively to water-scarce areas of the world in order to prevent future wars over water. To me, the novel is another powerful example of how art can bombard our senses and focus our attention as a society on addressing critical challenges with clarity and resolve.

 2014 Drought in American West


2014 Drought in California

 

The Wave as Placemaker, #3

Faces of and Words on Water and The Wave in Willimantic, CT

The fourth and final Wave installation of our Connecticut Office of the Arts, Art Catalyze Placemaking Grant, in partnership with the Connecticut Library Consortium, was held on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at the Willimantic (CT) Public Library. (See the May 21, 2014 and December 13, 2013 blog posts for more information on the grant, it’s goals and the definition of placemaking) In addition to the Willimantic Wave, installations completed by community participants are now hanging for varying lengths of time during the summer months at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, The New Haven Free Public Library in New Haven, CT and the New London Public Library in New London, CT.

In order to document the impact of the Wave as a community engagement public art project in a typical community, Elena and I engaged Nild Sansone, a Connecticut-based videographer to interview library staff, town officials and other community participants of all ages and background in Willimantic at the Wave event. Nild posed a series of questions, including: How is water important to you? What concerns do you have about water? How does water make you feel? What kinds of water issues do you have here in Willimantic? and How does The Wave help you think about water?

 Wave Participants at the Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants at the Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

Listed below is a sampling of responses that I selected from two hours of raw footage. Although individual references and memories about water were as varied as the pieces of Waves that they contributed to the installation, the common thread running throughout all of the answers was that water evokes feelings of calm, joy and refreshment; it impacts all of the senses (sound, smell, touch, taste, sight) and, although it’s taken for granted here in Connecticut, it is vital for individual and community health. Respondents also confirmed that participating in The Wave was not only creative and just plain fun, it helped them to focus on the importance of water in their lives as a community in the library, the community’s hub. Stay tuned for the The Wave Video.

 Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium and Willimantic Public Library Volunteer, June, 2014


Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium and Willimantic Public Library Volunteer, June, 2014

Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director, CT Library Consortium:

The Wave has made me think about the importance of water. Water is a way that I relax, feel connected to the world and the universe. It’s an important resource that I realize we might have to go to war over. I hadn’t thought about it until I was involved in this project and saw and heard everyone’s different reactions to water and The Wave. I think water helps me put my problems and my issues in perspective.

Drusilla Carter, Director, Willimantic Public Library

The Wave is a visual representation of the community. We have everybody here today: young mothers, fathers and children, teenagers in flocks, seniors and people we’ve never seen before in the library. We are water based. This town would not be here if it were not for water. The mills brought people here and were powered by the river. This is a textile town. Pollution is a problem in this small city. It’s a constant balancing act between using the water for industry and having a clean, unpolluted source.

 Teen Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Teen Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

Ernie Eldridge, Mayor and Town Manager, Windham, CT

What isn’t important about water? We take it for granted here and shouldn’t. It’s a resource that’s very fragile…The word, Willimantic, means swift running water.

Chris, Librarian, Willimantic Public Library

The sound of rain is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth… Water is the thing that is both inside and outside of me. This project brings attention to the fact that it is something we all share. You can talk about water as a concept but seeing it as an art form transforms the discussion.

Loretta Waldman, Writer

Cutting a piece of The Wave (in the way I did) was spontaneous from a lifetime of experiencing water.

Gail, Participant

I think what the artists are doing is incredible and I want to thank them for bringing this community project to our community and other communities that share common waterways. 

Megan H., Participant

While I was cutting The Wave, I was inspired by choppy waves in the middle of the ocean on that boat I go fishing in.

 Participant, Willimantic Wave, June, 2014


Participant, Willimantic Wave, June, 2014

Kayla, Participant

Water is moveable. Water is spontaneous so I cut it spontaneously. Water is outgoing and feels good.

Nate, Participant

Water represents doing whatever you need to do. Water feels powerful. It’s always changing: it can feel cold and you hate it and then comforting. We’ve got to find a way to spread the water out more where there isn’t enough water. You shouldn’t have golf courses that take up so much water. This is a big thing to raise awareness for the community.

Brian, Participant

Water makes me feel like I’m part of nature. Without water, we’d die. A bunch of animals live in water.

 Wave Participants, Willimantic, CT, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic, CT, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participant, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participant, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 

The Year in Water: Too Much and Too Little

This year, as 2013 draws to a close, the print, television and internet media are filled, as they are at every year’s end, with reviews of the year by category: “The Year in Style,” “The Year in Sports,” “The Year in Arts,” “The Year in Politics,” etc.  With this post, I hereby add my ‘take’ on year-end summaries with “The Year, 2013, in Water.” By all accounts, 2013 was a year of water extremes around the globe: too much water or too little of it.

Too Much Water

Words like ‘historic,’ ‘massive’ and ‘disastrous’ were used to describe the extensive rain events that befell regions and countries around the world during 2013.

June was an especially intense month of flooding in Central Europe, southern Alberta, Canada and India.  Beginning on June 2, record rainfall affected major rivers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. The Danube River in Passau, Germany reached its highest level since 1501 and many European cities documented flood waters that represented the highest numbers in over a century, causing widespread evacuations, significant damage to homes, businesses and communities as well as loss of life.

 Kresice, Czech Republic, lies submerged on June 4, 2013 (Petr Jesek/Reuters)


Kresice, Czech Republic, Lies Submerged on June 4, 2013 (Petr Jesek/Reuters)

Similarly, heavy rainfall prior to June 20, 2013 triggered flooding in southern Alberta, Canada that has been described by the provincial government as the worst in Alberta’s history and by the Canadian government as the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

 Evacuations in Alberta, Canada, 2013


Evacuations in Alberta, Canada, 2013

Although monsoons in India are an annual event that help to sustain India’s agriculture, the June, 2013 monsoon that hit northern India produced rainfall in one area that was five times the average for the time period, causing mudslides and flooding numerous mountain villages known for their Hindu shrines.

 A Submerged Idol of Hindu Lord Shiva in the Flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh, in the Northern Indian State of Uharakhand. AP Photo


A Submerged Idol of Hindu Lord Shiva in the Flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh, in the Northern Indian State of Uttarakhand. (AP Photo)

During the week after September 11, 2013, Colorado rainfall over a period of five days in some areas of the state exceeded the amount it normally experiences in a year.  Subsequent flooding that impacted seventeen Colorado counties caused the destruction of over 200 miles of state highways, 50 bridges and thousands of homes and forced massive evacuations.

 Flash Flood in Colorado, 2013


Flash Flood in Colorado Destroyed a Portion of a Road, 2013

And, just this past week, days of torrential rain precipitated major flooding in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, where over 60,000 residents were forced to flee their homes and where at least 30 people have died. The disaster has been called the worst in 90 years.

 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Surveying the Damage Caused by Massive Flooding.


Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, Surveying the Damage Caused by Massive Flooding. (Reuters)

Too Little Water

At the same time that many areas of the world experienced excess amounts of water during 2013, others faced the repercussions of drought.

According to the Global Drought Information System, which produces a monthly report on drought conditions, prolonged drought has intensified in the Southwest, U.S., spawning the term,”megadrought,” and triggering numerous ‘megafires’ that have decimated thousands of acres of farms and forests.  In Latin America, drought has caused as much damage as other more highly reported natural disasters: extended drought in Bolivia, the worst in 40 years, has triggered 47,000 fires; Argentinian and Brazilian corn plantations, which supply half of the world’s corn produce, have been decimated; and a food emergency has been declared in Paraguay.

 A Food Emergency Has Been Declared in Paraguay Due to Prolonged Drought


A Food Emergency Has Been Declared in Paraguay Due to Prolonged Drought

Other areas of the world impacted by sustained drought include the South of Africa, areas of Europe along the Mediterranean, Southern India and much of southeast and central parts of Australia.

 2013 Drought in Ireland


2013 Drought in Ireland (Agriland.ie)

This is not an uplifting end of year report, by any means.  Here’s hoping our scientists and politicians around the world begin to seriously tackle the hard work of addressing climate change so that future ‘Years in Water’ show reductions in the severity of water events and their human, economic and ecological costs.

Water Wars

Water Wars: Science Fiction?

Water Wars – the phase itself suggests a blockbuster science fiction action film.  In fact, there actually is an Emmy award-winning, animated science fiction television series entitled, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created by George Lucas and based on his wildly popular Star Wars films, that incorporates battle scenes taking place in the ocean waters on the imaginary Ocean Planet, Dac. Broadcast on the Cartoon Network and Disney XD, the series ran from Oct., 2008 – March, 2013.

 Water War Scene From Episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars


Water War Scene From Episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

However (and sadly), the growing number of references to the phrase, “Water Wars,” that have been cropping up in the print and broadcast media for years are not referring to science fiction battles taking place in water but to the very likely possibility of real wars being fought in the near future over water resources that are predicted to become increasingly scarce as populations grow and the planet warms.

Water Wars: The Real Ones

A simple search on Google using the phrase, Water Wars, brings up hundreds of references to predicted (and current) 21st Century conflicts over water, including in-depth articles, full-length books, graphic illustrations, documentary films and even lesson plans for teachers. Sources include national and international newspapers and on-line journals/blogs as well as broadcast media, including, among many others, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Scientific American, The Guardian, National Public Radio, National GeographicPrinceton University and Aljazeera.  An especially effective graphic interpretation of the concept posted on Al-Sharq al-Awsat is shown below.

 The Next Weapon


“The Next Weapon,” Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 2010

Although each of the print and broadcast references draws attention to different geo-political, economic or human aspects of the issues surrounding the predicted dearth of future water resources, William Finnegan, in his 2002 article in The New Yorker, entitled, Letter from Bolivia: Leasing the Rain summarizes the fundamental facts as follows:

The world is running out of fresh water. There’s water everywhere, of course, but less than three per cent of it is fresh, and most of that is locked up in polar ice caps and glaciers, unrecoverable for practical purposes. Lakes, rivers, marshes, aquifers, and atmospheric vapor make up less than one per cent of the earth’s total water, and people are already using more than half of the accessible runoff. Water demand, on the other hand, has been growing rapidly—it tripled worldwide between 1950 and 1990—and water use in many areas already exceeds nature’s ability to recharge supplies. By 2025, the demand for water around the world is expected to exceed supply by fifty-six per cent.

In response to the growing concern about future wars and potential terror threats over water, the U.S. intelligence agencies, at the request of the State Department, created a report in 2012, entitled, Global Water Security. Designed to determine how water problems (shortages, poor water quality and floods) will impact US national security over the next 30 years, the report states that “water problems will contribute to instability in states important to U.S. national interests… and as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives will become more likely”

Water Wars: Our Call

I am calling attention to the threat of future Water Wars in The Wave blog, just as Elena and I are calling attention to all existing water issues through The Wave Project, so that we can encourage, in our small way, the development of partnerships among entities sharing water resources as well as technological, economic and political solutions to water problems rather than violent conflict.

And because it’s been on my mind for a while, I began a series of drawings entitled, “The Last Frontier,”which depict my ‘take’ on the topic of Water Wars. Shown below is the third of six drawings that I’ve completed to date.

"The Last Frontier, #3" Susan Hoffman Fishman, Mixed Media on Syn Skin, 2013

“The Final Frontier, #3″ © Susan Hoffman Fishman, Mixed Media on Syn Skin, 2013

 

A Global Ocean Tragedy

Marine Debris

In our very first blog post on February 11, 2013, I referred to the vast amounts of debris that has washed ashore off the coast of Alaska and been identified as remnants from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.  But marine debris is by no means confined to Alaska’s waterfront or the result of a single event.  All of the world’s oceans and coastlines are inundated with trash, much of which is discarded plastic sweeping into the habitats of millions of animals and dramatically impacting our natural environment.

 Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from the Japanese Tsunami, 2013


Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from the Japanese Tsunami, 2013

“Gyre: The Plastic Ocean”

In an effort to call attention to what they refer to as “a global ocean tragedy,” The Alaska Sea Life Center and the Anchorage Museum have partnered to develop an innovative exhibition entitled, “Gyre: The Plastic Ocean.”  Twenty one artists from around the world were invited to participate in an expedition that combined scientific exploration with the creation of art incorporating ocean trash that they collected along the coast of South Central Alaska during the voyage. The term, ‘gyre,’ in the exhibition’s title signifies the large, swirling vortexes within the oceans that propel and disperse the debris worldwide.

Here are some images from the Gyre sea voyage showing the massive clean-up effort and the beginnings of the works of art that resulted from it.

 Gyre Artist Developing a Composition of Trash


Gyre Artist Developing a Composition of Trash

 Image of the Variety of Plastic Trash Found on the Expedition


Image of the Variety of Plastic Trash Found on the Expedition

 Artists and scientists removing trash from the Alaskan shore


Artists and scientists removing trash from the Alaskan shore

 Trash Boat


Trash Boat

In an astounding video of the Gyre expedition, produced by National Geographic, one of the artists refers to the plastic trash as the “cultural archaeology of our time, haunting the natural world in a terrifying way.” She went on to say that “there’s never been a society that’s produced so much material culture but taken the least responsibility for it,” and that “the action of cleaning a beach changes you – puts you in a position of care,” rather than as a mere bystander to the problem.

I was very much inspired by the Gyre expedition and the artists who participated in it. The exhibition will run from Feb. 7 through Sept. 6 at the Anchorage Museum and then travel to other locations worldwide.

 

 

The Wave on the Women’s Radio Network

Elena and I were interviewed recently for a half-hour radio show dedicated exclusively to The Wave. Susan Brender, the host of V is For Vitality, an internet radio program on the Women’s Radio Network, and a former television producer for CNBC and MSNBC, was especially interested in how the project came about and what impact it has on the participants who come to our sites.  She encouraged us to compare The Wave to other large scale, public art installations and challenged us to define why she and others like her should not be intimidated by art they do not initially understand. On the whole, the discussion was lively, thoughtful and far ranging.

Ms. Bender did pose one question, however, that gave me pause. Noting her understanding that the Wave was inspired by the 2011 earthquake and resulting Tsunami Wave originating in Japan, she asked me how the Japanese have responded to the project.  With a bit of hesitation and a chuckle, I answered that, so far, we haven’t heard of any reaction from Japan – not for lack of interest on their part, but because we ourselves have not yet reached out to identify a potential site that might host a Wave installation there.

 Tsunami Wave hitting Japan  Photograph from Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters Published March 15, 2011


Tsunami Wave Hitting Japan
Photograph from Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters
Published March 15, 2011

As it turns out, Ms. Bender has a number of close friends in Japan and expressed a desire to put together a second radio program on The Wave, for which she would invite us back, along with an environmental/water scientist and a Japanese scholar to discuss current global water issues and some perspectives from Japan two years after the Tsunami.

Stay tuned.  In the meantime, you can listen to the first broadcast on http://www.womensradio.com/2013/08/v-for-vitality-52/