In the exhibition “Surface Tension: The Future of Water,” a description next to the video “The Deluge” by Dan Clanzier says, “The work shows water as both a source of fascination and of destruction.” So does the exhibition, which seeks to educate people about water and how we use it with diverse visual displays and art.
“Archive of Vatnajokull” by Katie Paterson is a pair of headphones tuned in to a microphone under a glacier in Iceland that allows visitors to listen to the bubbling stream and quickly plunking drops of water “live” as the glacier melts. Next to the headphones a placard explains that one third of the world’s population depends on glacier meltwater for its freshwater.
Another work that uses technology to bring a part of nature into the gallery is “Tele Present Water” by David Bowen, a flat wooden network that hangs from the ceiling by strings that gracefully pull it up and down. The strings receive data from a lost buoy about the movement of the waves underneath it and the network moves to simulate the water’s surface in an unknown location of the world.
The exhibition emphasizes the troublingly large amounts of water that we use and that are used to make so many things we have— our products, food, clothing, and electricity. One display called “Hidden Water” shows glass orbs of different sizes representing the amounts of water it takes to make the different materials that their caps are composed of, such as plastic, steel, and wood. Technological solutions to water problems—research into more efficient pumps and filters, a model of a remote-controlled boat dragging an absorbent oil boom behind it—are highlighted.
The most political part of the exhibition is a graphic that shows water usage by country and the amount of freshwater on earth. 2.5% of earth’s water is freshwater and 30% of this freshwater is liquid while 70% of it is frozen. Amazingly, human beings have managed to pollute 29% of the freshwater on earth, leaving 1% of usable liquid freshwater for agriculture, industry, and domestic purposes.
At the top of the graphic it says, “The UN Human Development Report of 2006 argues that natural scarcity is not the cause of the water crisis, but that poverty, power, and inequality are at the heart of the problem.” If poverty and politics are at the heart of the water crisis, then this exhibition about the future of water did not have much information about why they are or how to solve those problems.
Even so, “Surface Tension” is an interesting and worthwhile exhibit with art that draws attention to the beauty of water and our relationship to it as well as graphics and models that depict our unsustainable use of it.