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.)

Sand, Sea, Stone, String x 3

Artists’ Residency For Two

In early June of 2016, Elena and I (plus husbands) headed to Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard for a glorious week of pure art play, as we have done together for many years. Because Aquinnah is located in a sparsely populated area at the very end of the island and is mostly deserted in early June, we have a pristine beach to ourselves as a palette for experimentation. It is our own private artists’ residency, a place and time of rejuvenation and inspiration that has served as the incubator for many of our collaborative and individual art projects.

 Philbin Beach, Aquinnah


The Pallette: Philbin Beach, Aquinnah

This year, we decided to limit the materials we brought for our experimental installations to black and red parachute cord.  We wanted to play with the contrast of black and red line on the ochre sand and natural rocks. We also wanted to document the motion of the water as it ‘redesigned’ our line patterns. (For those of you who follow this blog and the progress of The Wave as it travels from site to site, you will note that we use black parachute cord to connect all of The Wave pieces that are created by public participants into our Wave installations.)

“Home” 

One of the first installations we completed was conceived as a two-dimensional ‘home’ constructed in the shape of a linear square box with interior ‘spaces’ and ‘rooms.’ When we began, the ‘home’ was situated on the sand at least two – three feet from the shoreline.  Here it is, nearly complete, followed by details of its interior ‘spaces.’

 "Home," Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016.


“Home,” Image #1, Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016.

 'Home,' Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016


‘Home,’ Image, #2, Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016

 "Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


“Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #1, 2016

 'Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #2, 2016

 'Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #3, 2016

Eventually, the tide moved in and altered the installation, shifting lines, moving rocks and adding lines and rocks of its own. (See green seaweed, wrapped around red and black cord) Our ‘home’ was no more, morphed into a ‘sea-scape.’

 'Home,' Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,’ Parachute Cord, Seaweed and Rock on Sand, Detail #4, 2016

 'Home' Parachute Cord, Stone and Water, 2016


‘Home’ Parachute Cord, Stone and Water, Detail #5, 2016

“Big, Black Rock”

While walking on the beach, as we did several times a day, we both noticed this big, black rock, decorated with a ‘dress’ of seaweed and poised magnificently between shore and sand. Using red cord to ‘wrap’ the black rock and mimic the seaweed ‘dress,’ we watched as the relentless sea moved in to pound against the rock and reposition what we had created.

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #1, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #1, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #2, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #2, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #3, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #3, 2016

“Big Rocks, Little Rocks”

Inspired by “Big, Black Rock,” we selected a series of big and small rocks to wrap and ‘connect’ with red cord. As with all of the previous installations, we were forced to move quickly before the waves took over. The first image below records the site before we began. The second image shows one of the rocks ‘wrapped’ intricately with the red cord. In the third image, the tide has already changed the careful ‘wrapping’ significantly and in the fourth, the water has moved over the small rocks to remove the ‘wrapping’ and tangle the cording.

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016. Before Installation.

 "Big Rocks, Little, Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #1, 2016


“Big Rocks, Little, Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #1, 2016

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #2, 2016


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #2, 2016

Metaphors Galore

With nothing to bring home besides the red and black cord we had brought to the site as well as the several hundred photographs we had taken to record the work, we are still internalizing the process we undertook and the images that resulted from our efforts. There are metaphors that come to mind that will need to be translated into future projects: the impermanence of ‘home’ and daily experiences; the fragility of personal and communal connections; the beauty of line, natural or otherwise. Stay tuned.

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 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

 

Art for the Winter Weary

For those of us who live in areas of the world where snow, ice and cold dominate our winters, February is the month of the year in which we especially dream of a warm and sunny day at the beach: the beauty of a fresh snowfall has lost its sense of wonder after the tenth or eleventh storm; the invigorating cold snap in the air in November and December has turned bone-chilling; and the miracle of green sprouts in spring gardens is still a very long month or so away.

As a feast for the winter weary (and the not so winter weary), this post highlights images of art work created in the sand at the edge of the ocean by San Francisco artist, Andres Amador.  Amador’s impressive pieces belong in the genre known as Earth Art, an art movement that began in the late 1960′s and is devoted to art created in nature using natural materials as a medium, such as soil, rocks, logs, water, etc. and in Amador’s case, sand.  Earth art is often temporary, is subject to change or destruction by the elements and, therefore, frequently exists in its original form only as photographs or video recordings. The best known Earth artist is generally considered to be Robert Smithson, whose 1970 striking installation, Spiral Jetty, was created with basalt rock and earth and extends into the Great Salt Lake in Utah by a distance of 1500 ft.

 Robert Smithson, "Spiral Jetty From Rozel Point," 1970


Robert Smithson, “Spiral Jetty As Seen From Rozel Point,” 1970

Andres Amador’s ‘paintings’ on sand evolved from calligraphy or hand lettering that he created on the beach with a walking stick. The current ‘earthscapes’ in sand have measured from several hundred to over 100,000 feet and can only be completed during low tide. Within minutes of finishing a piece, and often while it is still in progress, the returning tide begins resetting the ‘canvas.’ Andres has been featured on the BBC, on CNN and in numerous T.V. programs and periodicals globally. His artwork has appeared on beaches in the U.S. and internationally, with his primary canvas being the Northern California coastline.

 Andres Amador at Work, Photo by Stepane Gimenez Photography, Courtesy of the artist.


Andres Amador at Work, Photo by Stepane Gimenez Photography, Courtesy of the Artist.

 'Ribbons', Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta Courtesy of the Artist


Andres Amador, ‘Ribbons,’ Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta
Courtesy of the Artist

 Andres Amador, "Kelp at Fort Bragg," 2012 Courtesy of the artist.


Andres Amador, “Kelp at Fort Bragg,” 2012
Courtesy of the Artist.

 Andres Amador, "Clouds," Ocean Beach, San Francisco, Courtesy of the Artist


Andres Amador, “Clouds,” Ocean Beach, San Francisco, Courtesy of the Artist

Amador also provides ‘Playa Painting Workshops’ during which participants work with the artist to complete a ‘painting’ in the sand.  Public Art at work!

 Andres Amador Playa Workshop. Courtesy of the Artist.


Andres Amador Playa Workshop. Courtesy of the Artist

The Ice Art Capital of the World

The BP World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska

Artists, as creative scavengers, have traditionally taken advantage of materials for their work that are readily available, relatively inexpensive and ripe with imaginative and technical challenges. Ice, the frozen form of water, meets all of these characteristics in areas of the world that sustain temperatures below freezing.

Since 1990, sculptors working with ice as their medium have flocked to Fairbanks, Alaska each March to compete in the BP World Ice Championships. The event has grown from a one-week competition involving 8 working teams of ice sculptors to a four-week project attracting over 70 teams from all over the world. 45,000 + visitors attended the 2013 exhibition and related programs. The goals of the BP World Ice Championships are to promote the use of ice as an artistic and educational endeavor, to advance cultural exchanges through art and to highlight the positive aspects of Alaska and of winter.

Harvesting Ice

The World Ice Championship requires over 1500 tons of ice, which is ‘harvested’ from O’Grady pond, adjacent to the Ice Park site, with heavy equipment modified for the process and with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers.  The extreme temperatures of Fairbanks enable the ice to grow many feet deep, making its unusually dense quality ideal for a world class competition. Ice harvested from O’Grady pond has been named, “Arctic Diamond” for its crystal-clear clarity.

 Lifting Blocks of Art for 2013 BP World Ice Art Championship © 2013 Ice Alaska


Lifting Blocks of Ice for the 2013 BP World Ice Art Championship
© 2013 Ice Alaska
Permission Ice Alaska

Ice Art

Participating artists have between two and five and a half days to complete their sculptures, depending on whether they have entered the single block or multi (ten) block event. A sculpture is judged by a variety of criteria including creativity or originality of the design, the degree to which the piece expresses its stated theme, the technical difficulty and skill required to execute the piece, its finished appearance and how well the artist has used the available amount of ice. Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 ice sculptures below.

Artist Working on Ice Sculpture  © 2013 BP World Ice Art Championship.  Permission of Ice Alaska


Artist Working on Ice Sculpture
© 2013 Ice Alaska.
Permission Ice Alaska

 "Roots," 2012 BP World Ice Art Championships; Artist, Sean Majka, USA;  Photo Credit: © Kim Iverson-Pett, Fairbanks, Alaska Permission, Art Alaska


“Roots,” 2012 BP World Ice Art Championships; Artist, Sean Majka, USA;
Photo Credit: © Kim Iverson-Pett, Fairbanks, Alaska
Permission Ice Alaska

 "Baggin the Crystal," 2012 BP World Ice Art Championships, Artists: Jesse Hensel, Perrin Teal-Sullivan, USA Photo Credit: © 2012 Kim Iverson-Pett, Fairbanks, Alaska Permission, Ice Alaska


“Baggin the Crystal,” 2012 BP World Ice Art Championships, Artists: Jesse Hensel, Perrin Teal-Sullivan, USA
Photo Credit: © 2012 Kim Iverson-Pett, Fairbanks, Alaska
Permission Ice Alaska

 "Locust," 2013 BP World Ice Art Championships, Artists: Junichi Nakamura, Japan and Shintaro Okamoto, USA Photo Credit: © Rhonda Y. Konicki Permission Ice Alaska


“Locust,” 2013 BP World Ice Art Championships, Artists: Junichi Nakamura, Japan and Shintaro Okamoto, USA
Photo Credit: © Rhonda Y. Konicki
Permission Ice Alaska

 "Winter Breeze," 2013 BP World Ice Championships; Artists: Stan Kolonko, Chris Uyehara, Jerry Perun, Wei Sen Liang, USA Photo Credit: © Rhonda Y. Konicki Permission Ice Alaska


“Winter Breeze,” 2013 BP World Ice Championships; Artists: Stan Kolonko, Chris Uyehara, Jerry Perun, Wei Sen Liang, USA
Photo Credit: © Rhonda Y. Konicki
Permission Ice Alaska

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Color of Water in Nature and in Art

Is Water Blue?

Well, that depends. Because of it’s intrinsic molecular structure, water is generally tinted a pale blue. But it can take on different hues when it contains impurities, bacteria and other natural or unnatural substances or by reflecting what is above its surface.

A section of the Colorado River at Marble Canyon in Arizona is colored by algae that blooms in the spring, turning the water a deep, hooker’s green.

 The Colorado Canyon, Arizona, at Marble Canyon


The Colorado Canyon, Arizona, at Marble Canyon

The Emerald Lakes on Mt. Tongariro, a compound volcano in New Zealand, contain large deposits of surfur, which ‘paint’ the water a beautiful shade of turquoise.

 Emerald Lakes, Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand


Emerald Lakes, Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand

On September 6, 2012, a portion of the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, suddenly turned beet red near the city of Chongquing. Scientists debated the cause: some attributed the frightening color to sediment forming upstream and traveling downstream; others suggested that microorganisms in the water were the culprit; many blamed industrial pollution. Bloggers and other media sources even proposed at the time that the strange phenomenon was the result of a biblical curse.

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The Yangtze River at Chongquing, September, 2012,

Oceans and lakes reflect the multiple colors in the sky, creating a mirror effect in the water.

sunsets 19How Do Artists Depict The Color of Water?

Over the last century, as part of modern art movements such as impressionism, fauvism, and pointillism, etc., artists have taken great liberties in rendering what they perceive to represent the color and nature of water. Here are some notable examples.

Georges Braque, the 20th century French painter who began his career as an impressionist, later embraced the Fauvist style and ultimately co-founded the movement known as cubism, created this image, entitled, “Landscape near Antwerp” in 1906.  The striking mauve, yellow and red colors of the water and the bold strokes of the paint suggest a highly emotional responses to the scene, characteristic of the Fauve approach to painting.

 "Landscape near Antwerp," Georges Braque, 1906


“Landscape near Antwerp,” Georges Braque, 1906, Collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC, 60 x 80 cm.

French impressionist, Claude Monet, created 250 paintings in his Water Lily series, depicting the gardens and landscape of his beloved home at Giverny. In this one, entitled, “The Water Lilies – Setting Sun,” Monet used soft yellow, mauve, blue and green colors, reflecting the gorgeous light of the sky on the lily pond at the end of the day.


“The Water Lilies – Setting Sun,” Claude Monet, 1914 – 1926, Collection of the Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris, 78.74″ x 236.22″

David Hockney, a British-born Pop artist, worked for a period of three decades from the 1960′s through the 1980′s on a series of paintings of swimming pools set in California landscapes. The swimming pool paintings reflected his fascination with the ‘utopian’ popular culture of the sunny, California lifestyle. Using vibrant colors that were filled with the suggestion of sunlight, Hockney’s presented his own version of water, chlorinated and sanitized within the man-made, concrete version of a ‘swimming hole.’

 "A Bigger Splash," David Hockney, 1967, 95.5" x 96"


“A Bigger Splash,” David Hockney, 1967, 95.5″ x 96″

Of course, I couldn’t end this post without a reference to the way in which Elena and I have depicted the color of water. In 2012, we completed twelve, 4′x 8′ sequential paintings on paper, entitled “Mid-Summer Day’s Dream,” a mixed-media, visual narrative relating the experience of an ordinary day interrupted by a life-changing event. The painting shown here is the seventh in the twelve-part series. Using red, pink, yellow, purple, black, white, brown and multiple shades of blue and green, we created an image of the moment in which the hesitant viewer of the narrative finally plunges into the force of an approaching wave.


“Plunge,” Painting 7 of 12 in “Mid-Summer Day’s Dream,” Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, Acrylic and Mixed Media on Paper, 4′ x 8,’ 2010 – 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visual Symbols for Water

The Purpose of Symbols

According to the Webster-Merriam Dictionary, a symbol is “something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance.” The word, ‘symbol,’derives from the Greek word, symbolon, meaning “throwing things together,” so as to create an imaginative association between them.  For a symbol to hold significance within a culture or community, its meaning must be clear and easily understood. A country’s flag, for example, is a symbol of its national identity and is recognized with pride by its citizenry. Similarly, the red or yellow octagonal shape located on a street corner is known throughout the world as a directive to STOP, regardless of the language.

 French Stop Sign


French Stop Sign

Symbols in Art

A visual symbol is a mark, a design or an image used to convey an idea or physical entity. In art, symbols are the oldest form of communication. They appeared on the walls of caves, on ceremonial objects, on clothing, on jewelry, on sculpture and on tools and were a visual language used to appease or praise the gods, petition for food or rain, give thanks or tell stories.

Water Symbols Throughout History

Since water represents life to a community and is a requirement for human survival, symbols for water were especially common throughout history.  In researching these images of water from ancient cultures all over the world up to the present time, I was amazed at how little they have changed. The earliest Egyptians represented water with the following symbol of parallel, wavy lines:

A detail from a side panel of the outer coffin of Ti of Saqqara, (c. 2450 BCE) entitled, Cattle Fording a River, shows the River Nile as a series of parallel, zig-zag lines at the bottom of the image, a slight variation from the symbol above.  Egyptians tombs were filled with the images and objects that the deceased would need in his/her eternal life and the vital waters of the Nile would certainly have been included in this one.

 Cattle Fording a River Tomb of Ti of Saqqara, c. 2450 BCE


Cattle Fording a River
Tomb of Ti of Saqqara, c. 2450 BCE

The artist who created The Uruk Vase from Uruk, Iraq, (c. 3500 – 300 BCE), at a significant distance of time and geography from the creator of the Saqqara tomb scene, depicted a somewhat similar image of cattle on the banks of a river, illustrated by parallel, wavy lines, from which plants and reeds are growing.

 Uruk Vase From Uruk, Iraq c. 3500 - 300 BCE


Uruk Vase From Uruk, Iraq
c. 3500 – 300 BCE

Half a world and 1300 centuries later, a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, entitled, “Norman Fleet Sailing for England (1070 – 1088) shows the vessel upon a sea of (yes, you guessed it) parallel, wavy lines.

 Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 - 1088


Norman Fleet Sailing For England
1070 – 1088

There are certainly some variations in visual symbols for water in other cultures.  The earliest Chinese symbols for water appeared as a central, wavy, vertical line, representing a river, with shorter lines signifying drops of water on the side.  But, really, don’t you think they’re still parallel, wavy lines?

 Earliest Chinese Symbols For Water


Earliest Chinese Symbols For Water

Eventually the symbol for water in Chinese evolved into an image that is a central, bold stroke with two angular marks on its left and right.

 Chinese Symbol for Water


Chinese Symbol for Water

The Navahos, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni tribal artists used (and still use) spiral, wavy lines as symbols for water, cycles of life, renewal and springtime.

 Navaho, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni Symbols For Water, Cycles of Life, Renewal and Springtime


Navaho, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni Symbols For Water, Cycles of Life, Renewal and Springtime

Check out how the zodiac sign for Aquarius was and is represented – the parallel, zig-zag lines again.

 The Twelve Zodiac Signs Including The Sign For Aquarius (Water)


The Twelve Zodiac Signs Including The Sign For Aquarius (Water)

Contemporary Symbols For Water

Trademarks and logos for corporations that are associated with the water industry as well as icons for Twitter and Facebook accounts representing water organizations  abound with symbols for water.  The Water-Sea icon shown below should look familiar by now:

 Water-Sea Icon


Water-Sea Icon

The American Rivers Association Twitter Account uses a symbol of a wavy, blue line representing the river, a brown field of color below the line to symbolize earth and a yellow sky.

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Finally, there’s a radically different image for water that has emerged in recent years to reflect the water conservation movement: the tap water icon.

tap-water-icon

This compilation of water symbols is by no means an exhaustive one but it does show how the importance of water has been emphasized by every culture in every time period.  What symbols of water can you find?  We’d love to post them.

The Art of Water

Water as a Theme or Metaphor in the Arts

Visual artists, poets, novelists, composers, playwrights, filmmakers and choreographers have long been inspired by the inherent beauty, movement and sound of water.  The list of well-known paintings, prints, poems, novels, plays, songs, musical compositions and dances that incorporate water as a literal image, as a theme or as a metaphor is immense.

Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain


Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain

Here are just a few examples:

Who doesn’t feel the pure joy and playfulness exuding from Gene Kelly in love when he dances, sings, leaps and stomps to Singing in the Rain in spite of the gloomy downpour and wet puddles? Or the power and force of nature portrayed in Frederick Church’s magnificent 1867 painting, Niagra Falls? In describing what he was trying to accomplish with his Water Lily paintings, Claude Monet wrote that they were “the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.” Handel’s 1717 commission to compose a concert for King George and his party as they sailed on the River Thames became his Water Music, a ‘flood’ of melodies, fittingly majestic and spectacular. And in his last play, The TempestWilliam Shakespeare uses the violent storm as a catalyst that dramatically affects the lives and actions of all his characters.

 The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916


The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916
Based on William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest

Water Across the Academic Disciplines

When we go to elementary, middle or high schools to work with students on a Wave installation, Elena and I encourage teachers to incorporate The Wave and its theme of water across academic disciplines, to tap into the poetry, novels, plays, music and dances that have already been created by singing songs, reading books, writing new stories and choreographing new dances in conjunction with The Wave installation. We also suggest that they conduct a water conservation awareness project in their local community, monitor their own water usage or research global water issues, etc.  To promote interdisciplinary learning on water, we are posting lessons on our website that teachers we have worked with have developed. We have also included a page of links on the website highlighting major national and international organizations that have created curricula on water, water conservation, water shortage around the world, water purification, water desalination and many other topics.

Poetry on Water

Relating to the topic of creative outpourings on water, I came across a poem recently that beautifully describes how water has no real shape of its own and, therefore, adapts efficiently to its environment.  The poem, “Be Like Water” was written by wellness advocate, Jason Wachob to Bruce Lee, the Chinese American martial artist.  Here it is:

Bruce Lee: Be Like Water

Be like water making its way through cracks.  Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

“Be Like Water” instigated a delightful discussion between Elena and me on our favorite poems related to water in all of its iterations (ice, snow, ocean, brook, river, lake, stream, storm, rain, sleet, pool, well, etc.,etc.).  I’ll start with Elena’s favorite, called “Marina” written by the Russian/Soviet poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941) and translated by Elena herself.

Marina 
by Marina Tsvetaeva

Some people are fashioned
Of clay and of ashes,
But I am all glittering freedom!
My name is Marina.
I act on my passions.
I’m ocean froth destined to perish.

 The Waves 'Frothing' Philbin Beach, Martha's Vineyard Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman


The Waves ‘Frothing’
Philbin Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, 2008
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

I have many favorite poems with a water theme: Water by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Going For Water by Robert Frost; Water is Taught by Thirst by Emily Dickinson; All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters by James Joyce and a special favorite from my childhood, Spring Morning by A.A. Milne. The Frost and Milne poems are included below.

Going for Water
by Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

 Brook, 2012 Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman


Brook, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

Spring Morning
by A.A. Milne

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

What are your favorite poems on water, snow, the ocean, etc? Or, for that matter, do you have favorite paintings, songs, films, operas, ballets, etc. that incorporate the theme of water? We’d love to hear about them.