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 Wave as Placemaker, #2

Community Conversations on Water in Connecticut Libraries

As recipients of a $10,000 2014 Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development, and in partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium, Elena and I have been conducting installations of The Wave in a series of Connecticut libraries. The installations serve as a catalyst for the establishment of ‘Community Engagement Hubs’ in the libraries, or centers for on-going community dialogue, and will remain for several months as visual documentation of the project and as a visual reminder of the shared community responsibility for local, regional, national and international water resources. (See the December 13, 2013 blog post for more information on the grant, it’s goals and the definition of placemaking)

Wave installations are currently hanging in the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, The New London (CT) Public Library and the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library. The fourth and final installation will take place on June 19, 2014 at the Willimantic (CT) Public Library.  In addition to the excitement and fun of making pieces of The Wave and celebrating as The Wave is hung in their own library, patrons have engaged in meaningful conversations and participated in additional programs about water including lectures, children’s story hours and the opportunity to interact with leaders from community organizations working to protect local waterways.

 The Wave over the central staircase of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT.


The Wave installed over the central staircase of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT.

 The Wave viewed from the street outside the Children's Department of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT


A second Wave installation in the Children’s Department of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, viewed from the street

 The Wave cascading over the balconies overlooking the main entrance to the New Haven Free Public Library (CT)


The Wave cascading over the balconies overlooking the main entrance to the New Haven Free Public Library (CT)

 Young library patrons engrossed in 'making a wave' at the New Haven Free Public Library


Young library patrons engrossed in ‘making a wave’ at the New Haven Free Public Library

 Proud Library patron with her piece of The Wave. standing in front of display of books on the oceans


Proud library patron with her piece of The Wave. standing in front of a display of books on the oceans and water in the New London Public Library

 "I did it!" Participant in the New London (CT) Public Library Wave installation


“I did it!” Participant in the New London (CT) Public Library Wave installation

Sample Programming

As part of the The Wave installation at the New Haven Free Public Library, Carol Brown, Manager of Programming, developed a series of questions on water for patrons and posted them at the main entrance to the library. As visitors continue to add their comments to the questions on note cards, they take into consideration what has been written previously and contribute their own thoughts. Samples of the questions and community responses include:

How does water make you happy? 

“The sound of waves is so soothing. I think it reminds us of being in the womb.” “The sound of running water calms my soul. Cool water quenches my thirst.” “It is something cold on a hot summer day. We are mostly made of water.” “A hot bath every night!” “I love all kinds of water. It’s most beautiful in the sun.” “Using water to cook our food.” “A wet dog.”

 What are your thoughts about water?

“Water is an amazing force, so strong that we can’t understand.” “Water is life. Don’t spoil it.” “Water is splendid.” “People pollute is a lot.” “People should not waste it. They should use it wisely.”

What can you do today to use less water?

“Don’t wash your car!” “You do not have to buy water. You should use sink water.” “Flush less.” “Don’t meditate in the shower.” “Don’t leave water running when you brush your teeth.”

 A map showing one of the issues involving water in the New Haven, CT community


A map showing one of the issues involving water in the New Haven, CT community

 Community comments on water in the New Haven Public Library


Community comments on water in the New Haven Public Library

Ode to Jennifer Keohane and Libraries

Elena and I would like to thank Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium, for her enthusiasm and endorsement of The Wave and her creativity in using it as a catalyst for building community in library settings. Many thanks also to Leah Farrell, her able assistant, and to all the staff members, volunteers and hundreds of patrons of the participating libraries who made the project so successful. We remain impressed by everything that libraries do to educate, enrich, inform and entertain the residents of our cities and towns.

 Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of The Connecticut Library Consortium (right) with a wave-making library patron at The New London Public Library


Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of The Connecticut Library Consortium (right) with a wave-making library patron at The New London Public Library

 

 

 

The Brooklyn Wave, Continued

On Monday, April 7, glass was installed over The Brooklyn Wave, our first permanent Wave site, located at 40 North 4th Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. After the scaffolding was removed later in the week, The Wave was newly visible throughout the three-story atrium of the 90 unit-luxury apartment building. With its brilliant colors and playful shapes that represent a series of ocean swells, The Brooklyn Wave has begun to engage passersby on the street and has become a focal point for construction workers within the building itself.

The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave, Detail


The Brooklyn Wave, Detail

 The Brooklyn Wave, Detail


The Brooklyn Wave, Detail

 

 

 

The Brooklyn Wave

Ode to Scaffolds 

For many centuries, artists have completed large scale paintings, frescos and murals while perched atop precarious scaffolding. A few notable examples: Michelangelo famously strained his neck looking up from scaffolds while he was working on the ceiling of the magnificent Sistine Chapel from 1508 – 1512 in Rome; and 20th Century Mexican artist, Diego Rivero, boldly executed scores of wall-sized murals that routinely involved spending weeks and months on scaffolds.

 Diego Rivera on Scaffolding.


Diego Rivera Working on his Rockefeller Center Mural in 1933

On April 2nd and 3rd, Elena and I climbed onto our own scaffolds at 40 North 4th Street in Brooklyn, New York to create our first permanent installation of The Wave. Located in the atrium of a 90-unit luxury apartment building that Elena herself designed, this version of The Wave spans three floors and overlooks a bar area on the lower level, the building’s lobby on the entry level and a floor of apartments on the second level.  Here are some photos of the work in progress.

 Elena Kalman Working on the Brooklyn Wave, 2014


Elena Kalman Working on the Brooklyn Wave, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014


The Brooklyn Wave in Progress, Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2014

 

Public Art as Community Building, #3

March 23, 2014: At The Draftsmen’s Congress, New Museum, NYC

On Sunday, March 23, Elena and I joined artists from Art Kibbutz  at the New Museum in New York City to participate in The Draftsmen’s Congress, a public art project created by Polish artist, Pawel Althamer. Art Kibbutz is a residency for international Jewish artists founded by Patricia Eszter Margit in 2012,

Althamer originally conceived and executed Draftsmen’s Congress for the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012 to engage participants from diverse backgrounds in a ‘conversation’ through images, rather than words, on issues that were relevant to them in contemporary society. He invited groups of artists as well as a wide range of social and political organizations from the local community to mark the walls and floors of the installation space with a variety of drawing and painting materials. After each group completed its collective drawing, the next group to participate in the project worked over what was done previously, so that the space became a layered representation of the entire community of participants. Similarly, the blank white space of the New Museum’s fourth floor gallery has been transformed over the course of two months through the gradual accumulation of drawings and paintings by Museum visitors and invited community groups, including Art Kibbutz.

Prior to our one-day residency on March 23rd at The Draftsmen’s Congress, 20 participating members of Art Kibbutz from all over the US, France, Netherlands, South Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Georgia, Japan and Korea met with Judaic scholars for two learning sessions to develop an approach to the project that was founded on Jewish values and practices. Using the Kabbalah and the Torah for inspiration, the group focused on the Torah’s fundamental concept of “loving your fellow as yourself,” to underscore what Althamer’s exhibition is trying to create: a non-judgmental, harmonious conversation among a diverse community that fosters dialogue and understanding. Over the course of the day, Art Kibbutz artists pulled instructions previously contributed by members of the group from a hat and handed them off to each other for execution. In this way we were creating a community of images that represent an interactive exchange of ideas.

When Elena and I arrived at the New Museum, the Art Kibbutz group had just begun creating a series of large circles over the existing images that encompassed three walls of the gallery.  Although each circle was distinct and embodied the artistic style and color choices of its ‘artist,’ the cumulative visual effect was bold, dynamic and unified. I contributed my own series of circles while Elena began to create three ladders that spanned from floor to ceiling.

 Draftsmen's Congress, #1, March 23, 2014


Draftsmen’s Congress, #1, March 23, 2014

 Draftsmen's Congress, #2, March 23, 2014


Draftsmen’s Congress, #2, March 23, 2014

Draftsmen's Congress, #3, March 23, 2014


Draftsmen’s Congress, #3,
March 23, 2014

 Art Kibbutz Artist at Draftsmen's Congress, March 23, 2014


Art Kibbutz Artist at Draftsmen’s Congress, March 23, 2014

What Did We Conclude About The Experience?

We were amazed by how quickly the collective ‘drawing’ was transformed.  By the time we left at the end of the day, our circles, marking our physical presence, were being modified and taken over by other images, similar to the way in which incoming waves erase previous marks made upon the sand.  We were once again reminded that the process itself of making art is often more important than the creation of a single, ‘precious’ object. And, most importantly, we experienced the richness that can come from building a community by participating in public art.

Public Art as Political Awareness

In previous posts I’ve written about public art and its historical purposes as a vehicle for: (1) commemorating individuals or events; (2) emphasizing the stature of governments and corporations; and (3) embellishing and beautifying public spaces, as well as its more recent intentions as catalysts for community building and placemaking. (See February 24, 2013, August 26, 2013, December 13, 2013, and February 22, 2014)  There is another objective, however, for which artists place images and objects in public spaces: to call attention to political and social issues of collective local, national or international import. The simple, yet highly effective work of James Bridle falls into the category of public art as political awareness.

James Bridle’s Drone Shadows

James Bridle defines himself as an artist, writer, publisher and technologist. Based in London, UK, he describes his work as the intersection of literature, culture and the network. His artworks and installations have been exhibited in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia, and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of visitors online. He has been commissioned by organisations including Artangel, Mu Eindhoven, the Istanbul Design Biennial and the Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC.

In 2012, Bridle began a project that he calls Drone Shadows. To him, drones represent an “inherently connected technology allowing sight and action at a distance,” similar to how the internet itself functions. Used primarily as military and law-enforcement tools, however, drones provide governments with surveillance and attack capability against perceived threats without any collateral damage to human pilots. In order to understand the actual size of a drone as it compared to his own body, Bridle and his friend, Einar Sneve Martinussen, used chalk and string in a parking lot in London to draw the outline of a ‘drone shadow,’ an accurate replica of an MQ-1 predator, one of the most commonly used combat drones.

 Dimensions of the Predator/MQ-1 Drone That Serve as the Model for Bridle's Droneshadows


Dimensions of the Predator/MQ-1 Drone that served as the model for Bridle’s first Drone Shadow

 Droneshadow 1 in London Parking Lot James Bridle/booktwo.org


Drone Shadow 001 in London Parking Lot
Photo courtesy of James Bridle/booktwo.org

Since that first chalk outline in 2012, Bridle’s ‘shadows’ have been installed in cities around the world to call attention to the way in which drones dehumanize acts of violence. The simple lines, much like the drawings used in crime scenes to document the placement of murder victims, give a physical presence to an often invisible weapon. Bridle describes his motivation for the project in the following way:

We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire. But the attitude they represent—of technology used for obscuration and violence; of the obfuscation of morality and culpability; of the illusion of omniscience and omnipotence; of the lesser value of other peoples lives; of, frankly, endless war—should concern us all. http://booktwo.org/notebook/drone-shadows/

 James Bridle and Einar Sneve Martinussen, Drone Shadow 004, Outside the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/booktwo.org.


James Bridle and Einar Sneve Martinussen, Drone Shadow 004, Outside the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo courtesy of James Bridle/booktwo.org.

Droneshadow Brazil-01 of the Hermes 450 Drone, Sao Paolo, Brazil for the IV Mostra 3M de Arte Digital, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/Booktwo.org


Drone Shadow Brazil-01 of the Hermes 450 Drone, Sao Paolo, Brazil for the IV Mostra 3M de Arte Digital, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/Booktwo.org

The Wave, too, can be classified as public art that fosters political awareness. With its alluring colors and the way in which it involves visitors personally in the creation of the installations, The Wave is calling attention to the beauty and essential nature of water as well as our joint responsibility to promote and sustain universal access to clean water.

 Wave Installation at Rose Fitzgerald Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011


Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, Wave Installation at Rose Fitzgerald Greenway, Boston, MA, Polycarbonate Film and Parachute Cord, 2011