Thinking About Water on World Water Day

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Think About Water (TAW) is a newly-formed collective of 28 international eco-artists and activists whose work addresses global water issues. The organization has scheduled its first exhibition, also called “Think About Water,” to open today, March 22, in commemoration of World Water Day. (Please see details about the opening reception below.) Originating in 1993, World Water Day celebrates water, calls attention to the 2.2 billion people around the world without access to clean water, and urges individuals to become engaged in efforts to combat the global water crisis. Similarly, the goal of TAWand its member artists is to “interpret, celebrate, and defend water.” 

Think About Water is the brainchild of its founder, Fredericka Foster. The idea to create a group of artists who are passionate about water derived from her experience guest curating a large-scale exhibition titled “The Value of Water,” which was held at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 2011. Surrounded by 200 works of art on water-related issues, she experienced a profound sense of awe and spiritual connection to this basic element of life. Notable artists in the Cathedral exhibition included, among many others, video artist Bill Viola, conceptual artist Jenny Holtzer, multi-disciplinary artist Robert Longo, and painter/printmaker Pat Steir.

Over the years, Foster stayed informed about and connected with some of the artists in the show and, in the back of her mind, was thinking about developing a formal organization that would provide a supportive community for them (and her). She subsequently became a water activist and devoted her own work as a painter to “our relationship to water; its physicality and resonance in the body; its environmental and socioeconomic forces, psychological meaning, and transformative properties.”

Fredericka Foster, River Revisited, oil on canvas, 40” x 60,” 2017-2021

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closings of museums and galleries and cut artists off from any physical social contact, Foster had the time to realize her plan. She hoped to create a virtual group that would provide companionship during this time of extreme isolation, a clearing house for resources and information, and a collective voice that could advocate for relevant water concerns. She grew the group primarily through word of mouth and the suggestions of member artists. (Full disclosure: I am a proud member of TAW.) This past year, Think About Water sponsored a postcard project aimed at encouraging voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election using the non-partisan phrase “Vote for Water,” and began planning its first exhibition.

Think About Water,” (the exhibition) is a three-month virtual show presented through an interactive VR gallery, curated by TAW artist Doug Fogelson. The 23 participating artists represented in the exhibition have years of experience and powerful bodies of acclaimed work pertaining to a range of global water issues. They are painters, photographers, filmmakers, as well as mixed media, social engagement, performance, land, and installation artists who have a sustained commitment to and respect for water. In addition to showing the works of art in a gallery-like space, the exhibition includes brief explanations of the pieces by each artist and a link to their individual websites.  

Fogelson admitted that his job as curator was made easier by the fact that he was curating artwork by artists who had already been curated into the collective rather than seeking them out on his own. His other curatorial experiences include the exhibition “Water in Art” at the Fresh Water Lab, University of Illinois at Chicago, which was developed in conjunction with the academic symposium, “Water After Borders;” and most notably, as a co-founder of the Filter Space Gallery in Chicago, a nonprofit site supporting the photographic community in the Midwest.

Doug Fogelson, Headwaters No. 20 (Iceland), chemically altered film, ink jet print, 15” x 35,” 2019

Four TAW artists, representing a range of approaches to the topic of water and using a wide variety of materials, met with me recently via Zoom to discuss their work in the exhibition.

LEILA DAW 

In her mixed-media painting, We Cling to Beauty While the World Around Us Falls Apart, New Haven-based artist Leila Daw combines Burmese tapestry and acrylic to depict the drainage basin of a great river. The pure water and pristine forests dotted with indigenous settlements at the top of the painting deteriorate into mud and destruction towards the middle and bottom of the piece with allusions to industrial sewage and other manmade interventions. Daw uses Burmese tapestry regularly in her work and for many years traveled on an annual basis to Myanmar to purchase the product. She stumbled upon the material while she was visiting the country for the first time and realized that its golden thread and metallic sequins are reminiscent of sparkling water and would be perfect for what she wanted to convey. Daw also utilizes the beautiful cloth to seduce the viewer into looking closely at her paintings instead of being turned away immediately by the seriousness of the ecological destruction she addresses. 

Leila Daw, We Cling to Beauty While the World Around Us Falls Apart, Burmese tapestry and acrylic, 66” x 28,” 2021
LAUREN ROSENTHAL MCMANUS

For Middle Delaware – Musconetcong DrawingLauren Rosenthal McManus also uses a map to depict a portion of a river basin, but in contrast to Daw’s objectives, her intention is to encourage viewers to recognize the fractal connections between their own vascular systems and river ecologies. Working with natural materials, including rocks and soils from the locations in which her work is exhibited, she makes her own pigments. Her subtractive drawing process mimics erosion to “evoke the way that rivers mark their paths on the earth.” She installed Middle Delaware – Musconetcong Drawing directly onto the wall at Artyard in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Her map, which originally measured 12’ tall by 8’ wide, contains no boundaries imposed upon the land by political entities and so flows without artificial borders. McManus is especially interested in engaging with local community members in urban environments using participatory activities in order to strengthen their connections to the land. 

Lauren Rosenthal McManus, Middle Delaware – Musconetcong Drawing, ground rock, water and gum arabic on wall, 12 ft. x 8 ft., 2017
LISA REINDORF

Lisa Reindorf draws upon her background as both an architect and artist to create paintings that address the conflict between manmade and natural environments. In Tsunami City, the rigid geometric forms of buildings in an unnamed city contrast with the wild movement of the sea, which is encroaching upon the unnatural structures. Having grown up in Central Mexico, Reindorf is drawn to the bold and vibrant colors that are its artistic heritage and has always been aware of the importance of barrier beaches that protect the natural shoreline. In the battle between nature and manmade interventions, “it is nature,” she says, “that always wins.”  

 Lisa Reindorf, Tsunami City, oil and acrylic on panel, 40” x 60,” 2020
NAOE SUZUKI

Blue by  Naoe Suzuki  holds special meaning for the Boston-based artist. Dating back to 2011, it was the first work of art that she made relating to water. That year, she spent a month at the Blue Mountain Center’s artist residency in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Swimming daily in very cold lake water, she experienced what she refers to as its cleansing and healing powers. She also began thinking about the bodies of water throughout the world that were not in this pristine condition because they had been impacted adversely by pollution and the climate crisis. The drawing that emerged represented her newfound commitment to exploring the environment and addressing water-related issues. Ten feet long and made using mineral pigment, walnut ink, and tea on paper, Blue references the tradition of Japanese scrolls, telling a story in which water plays a central role. 

Additional artists in the exhibition include Diane Burko, Betsy Damon, Rosalyn Driscoll, Giana Pilar Gonzalez, Susan Hoffman Fishman, Fritz Horstman, Basia Irland, Ellen Kozak, Stacy Levy, Anna McLeod, Ilana Manolson, Randal Nichols Jaanika Peerna, Aviva Rahmani, Meridel Rubenstein, Linda Troeller and Adam Wolpert.

Naoe Suzuki, Blue, mineral pigment, micro pigment pen, walnut ink, and tea on paper, 42” x 120,” 2011
OPENING RECEPTION AND EXHIBITION EVENTS

One of the advantages of hosting a virtual opening reception is the ability to include colleagues, friends, and interested individuals from all over the world. The opening reception for “Think About Water” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (EDT) on Monday, March 22. All of the participating artists will speak very briefly (1 minute each) about their work, after which there will be time for questions and social interaction. Additional events, including panel discussions related to the exhibition’s theme, will be announced through social media and on the collective’s website. 

Click here for more info about the exhibition or to RSVP for the opening reception

All images courtesy of the artists.

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer whose work has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have addressed water and climate change. She co-created a national, participatory public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and which has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores – trees that have been exposed to salt water and died as a result of rising tides.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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