The following is a slideshow walk-through of my May 2012 gallery installation in Fox Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania.
I am exploring the issue of the world’s fresh water supply and how it has become an opportunity for artistic intervention. Social engagement, community-based public art, and socially responsible economic development all serve as cornerstones to a growing practice of cross‐disciplinary art. In a world where one in six people worldwide lacks access to clean drinking water, art is able to raise awareness, critique, and blur boundaries by engaging the public, increasing understanding, and correcting global water contamination. Such practices provoke international attention and verify the need for more people with different approaches and investments to social and environmental issues to enter the worldwide water problem. The reality of global water concerns has been a stressed topic within the United Nations, and rightly so, considering that water has been commercialized with a high price tag and contributes to growing mortality rates due to inaccessibility and contamination in both urban and rural parts of the world. In urban living, clean water is a precious commodity. In rural communities, water is often a far-flung scarcity. Short and long‐term motivations in bringing fresh water to both developing and developed countries cannot be ignored in the political and economic struggle to address the water pandemic. Globally, the public is never sure of corporate motivations, and artistic engagement often addresses such concerns, making it a strikingly attractive form of awareness to the public masses. While accountability to communities or long-term sustainability are questionably different between an artist and an organization, it is important to offer all forms of organized practices as a mode of discourse, to compare and analyze in order to see where boundaries are blurred and similarities reside. Artists such as Jackie Brookner, Natalie Jeremijenko and John Todd are but three of a much larger group of case studies that I use to qualify my research.
My research draws upon several disciplines, among them fine arts, design, and ecology. While examining related scholarly work, I have consistently found socially engaged art being addressed as a broad topic, covering all forms of artistic expression for a wide variety of topics rather than a more focused study of a specific topic. By considering the artistic work that has gone on before me in the field of ecological art, I have put into practice my own body of socially engaged art; contributing to the ecological art repertoire. Using plants, heat, and rain water, I was able to create a water distillation system in the art gallery that functions both aesthetically and meaningfully as a unit running on readily available sources of water. Rain water is harvested using a food grade bucket set atop a drain. Water is then pumped from the bucket to the acrylic cube housed within the gallery via a water pump. From the cube, gravity sets in, using the flow of water that rises within the cube to flow out the two PVC tubes attached to the front end of the cube. The tubes run from the cube to the two plant troughs where the process of watering the plants begins. The plants, which are various species of lettuce, act as a first step in filtration, and, ultimately, a consumable product. Feeding the plants that feed us. From the plants, the water drips into the first of three steps, with this one being the process of filtering out sediment from the soil. The water then is siphoned into the distillation flask where it is heated. The heat causes the water to form condensation in the Kjeldahl bulb where it then passes through the condenser and into the third and final cylinder, as purified water. This cylinder contains kishu binchotan; which, I am using to add minerals to the water for taste purposes. One of my primary motivations in this installation was to create thought regarding water usage. How can one make the most efficient use of water? In this installation we are able to use the same water supply (rain water) for watering consumable plants and for drinking water. In terms of my own learning vocabulary and educational experience, my course of study has shed a valuable light on the subject of artistic mediation, fresh water remediation practices, and its relevance in international affairs as a very current and globally relevant problem.
rain water, food grade bucket, water power pump, plants (herbs, lettuce, cabbage), soil, activated carbon, gravel, ammonia neutralizers, and kishu binchotan, along with PVC tubing, acrylic containers, a glass flask, a heating pad, condenser, and flow control valves