Artists in Conversation with Water in Cities

Carmen Bouyer, Paris.  Patrick M. Lydon, Daejeon.  Antonio José García Cano, Murcia.  Katrine Claassens, Montreal.  Claudia Luna Fuentes, Saltillo.  Nazlı Gürlek, Istanbul & Palo Alto.  Basia Irland, Albuquerque.  Robin Lasser, Oakland.  Mary Mattingly, Brooklyn.  Marguerite Perret, Topeka.  Bonnie Sherk, San Francisco.  Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, Paris.  Aloïs Yang, Prague. 
14 July 2018

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.
Every month we feature a Global Roundtable in which a group of people respond to a specific question in The Nature of Cities.
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Hover over a name to see an excerpt of their response…click on the name to see their full response.
Antonio José García Cano, Murcia Art can promote reflection about our relationship with place: promote attachment place, point out the ecological and cultural values that still remain, and to generate dialogue and imagination about the future.
Katrine Claassens, Montreal We had been lulled into hypnotic tap-water love. We filled our lives with the tamed water: swimming pools, fish ponds, saturated lush lawns.
Claudia Luna Fuentes, Saltillo The presence in the community of actions and elements originated from art has provoked a reflection beyond art.
Nazlı Gürlek, Istanbul & Palo Alto Water is not “urban” or “rural” to me. Water is not this or that concept; it is not separation. It is wholeness, connectedness, oneness. Sacred.
Basia Irland, Albuquerque These few brief excerpts are chosen to contrast how rivers in cities are viewed as sacred, as dumping grounds for every form of pollution, and as concrete conveyance channels.
Robin Lasser, Oakland Melting ice is one of the clearest images of climate change. Our ice ships are clear and black ice cubes, in the shape of the Titanic. They melt in front of the camera, to a soundtrack of love letters sourced from the community.
Marguerite Perret, Topeka The Snæfellsjökull glacier, visible from Reykjavik, is disappearing. Vatnajökull and Langjökul glaciers may be gone by the end of the century. Climate change will be challenging here as everywhere. But Iceland is not Iceland without glaciers.
Mary Mattingly, New YorkI wanted to co-learn techniques for living in a city acetic-ly, and to envision an urban center that could be less dependent on material supply chains.
Bonnie Ora Sherk, San FranciscoIt began as “Sitting Still l”, a temporary performance installation. It evolved into urban agriculture, ecology, multi-arts and education center that transformed acres of derelict land fragments.
Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, Paris The qualities of water, allied with my experience of dance, both in the studio and in nature and the city, greatly influence my way of entering into contact with people and environments.
Aloïs Yang, PragueHow can a tiny event—a drop of water, or the sound of cracking and melting ice—create feedback loops that eventually can be seen as the whole? Every aspect inside a system is connected to others and capable of revealing the bigger picture.
Patrick M. Lydon

About the Writer:
Patrick M Lydon

Patrick M. Lydon is an American ecological writer and artist based in Korea whose seeks to re-connect cities and their inhabitants with nature. He writes The Possible City series, is co-founder of City as Nature (Daejeon). He is an Arts Editor here at The Nature of Cities.


As human beings who inhabit bodies made mostly of water, connecting to water as an element means connecting to a large part of who we are. Yet more than this, the artists in this roundtable teach us that if we pay close attention, water can help us connect in profound and useful ways to the environments around us.

Artists who work closely with water seem to take upon themselves a duty, to help us remember, imagine, and even embody the importance of water to life on this planet, and in our cities. They remind us that rivers run through our cities, but also through our bodies. In connecting the water within us and the water that makes up the world around us, they offer opportunities for the kinds of deepened relationships with the Earth that our society can benefit greatly from. Here, water becomes both teacher, and a sort of guide for us to imagine how we might build cities with respect for this precious element.

See a previous roundtable in this series: Artists in Conversation with Air in Cities.
In cities, water flows through human infrastructures, from drinkable water systems and agricultural fields, to sewerage systems, it travels through pipes, channels, ravines, aquifers, and treatment plants. Yet water continues to follow its ancient patterns too, ever present as the cohabiting sea, lake, wetland or river, streams, taking form in the weather; the monsoons, the snow storms, and the periods of drought, where withering landscapes, and their co-inhabitants, respond to its sudden absence.

Human settlements are responding to water-related issues constantly. Streams and rivers are covered by urban expansion in one area; elsewhere others are unburied and restored. In many parts of the world water pollution is egregious, with two billion humans lacking access to clean water, and countless other beings in nature suffering even worse fates; elsewhere laws to regulate pollution and waste are mitigating or reversing these pollution and access issues. As sea levels rise and climate change affects our cities more broadly in unpredictable ways; in parallel we adapt and protect, creating ecological parks to form living buffers and promoting vibrant water-protecting ecosystems.

On an even more fundamental level, changes to social attitudes towards the precious resource of water – often attained through the collaboration of arts and science – are driving efforts to create more long-term sustainable ways of living and being with this Earth.

For this, our second roundtable, we invite eleven artists to present their conversation with water in cities. Coming from seven different countries—Czech Republic, France, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and the United States—these artists inspire our own experiences with water in cities. They engage with water in the shape of fog, rain, ice, restored wetlands, urban rivers and creeks, city fountains, and reclaimed urban spaces. To them, water is an inclusive moving matter that when listened to, can serve as a conduit to larger understandings.

Water is vital, spiritual, and restorative. It is a common that connects us all, to each other, and to our biosphere. The conversations here take various forms, from the performative to the media-based, from poems to sculptures to design, and from community and civic engagement, to methods of collaborative caring for water and for each other. We are pleased to have you discover these conversations with us, and invite you to further enrich them by responding to the work and perspectives together.

Carmen Bouyer and Patrick M. Lydon
Panel Co-Chairs

Banner image: “Ice Receding/Books Reseeding” projects. “Cleo reading TOME II.” 300-pound ephemeral ice sculpture embedded with native riparian seeds. Photo: Basia Irland

Carmen Bouyer

About the Writer:
Carmen Bouyer

Carmen Bouyer is a French environmental artist and designer based in Paris.

Antonio José García Cano

About the Writer:
Antonio José García Cano

Antonio José García Cano is an artist interested in Climate Change and its consequences on water and rivers. He learns from the place, other disciplines, and the complexity of reality.

Antonio José García Cano

Art can lead us to reflect on our relationship to place: promote place attachment, point out the ecological and cultural values, and generate dialogue and imagination about the future.
Learning from the water

I live in Rincón de Beniscornia (Murcia), a small village in South East Spain. It is in a traditional irrigation area called Huerta de Murcia located in the floodplains of the Segura River, very close to the city. In this place, water has been essential for the economy, culture and landscape. Over centuries, the river has flooded the area and people made a living from varied agricultural activities.

However, today the place has changed deeply: urban developments have been built on top of fertile soils, the river has been channelized and engineered, and parts of the irrigation channels have been funneled into pipes under roads.

Not many people still cultivate the land, and water has become scarce.

The ecological values of the ecosystem have been degraded. In addition, climate change is bringing more challenges, among them higher temperatures, droughts, and floods.

From my perspective, art can promote reflection about our relationship with place. These are some projects where I try to promote attachment to the place, point out the ecological and cultural values that still remain, and to generate dialogue and imagination about the future of those places.

Azarbón (2009, Rincón de Beniscornia, Murcia, Spain)

Azarbe or Azarbón is the channel that collects the water that has not been used to irrigate the lands and brings it back to the river. When I was a child I used to play there. My grandparents fished and played there, drank that water and used it to cook.

Nowadays, you cannot see water very often and it is not drinkable.

I did an artistic intervention in this place using reeds (Arundo Donax) which is an invasive plant but very used historically here. The goal of this piece was to keep the memory of flowing water alive in that channel. In the short film Azarbón you can see how the artwork was created and also learn from the memories of José Cano Cano and Antonia Cano Cano about this place.

Iskurna Project (2011-2014, Rincón de Beniscornia)

In Rincón de Beniscornia, I began a process of learning about the place from the elders, from old photos and ancient maps and documents. I understood how the river had been a living organism moving in the floodplain for centuries until we constrained it by levees and how important the smart irrigation system is. I walked with people who live there and outsiders to share my knowledge, to keep on learning from them, and to generate connections and learning networks.

I drew maps of the place where you can see features that do not exist any longer like the last river or acequias. They also include the traditional names of places.

We filmed eight videos of a farmer (Joaquín Martínez Ortín) doing traditional agricultural tasks, such as preparing the soil, planting potatoes, or watering the plants.  They are part of the series of videos called “The cycles of the orchard”.

A community walk during the Iskurna project.
Hand drawn map for the Iskurna project.

After these two projects, I understood this as an ideal place to develop a strategy of adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Therefore, I published an article in Ecosistemas science magazine about how we can promote connectivity between the current river, the last meanders of the river and the irrigation channels to embrace different effects of climate change. This system could surround the city, Murcia, and generate a green corridor which regulates temperature, provide shelter, generates oxygen and sink carbon dioxide. In addition, if we eliminate some of the levees of the river and generate natural areas to flood and we also open partially the old meanders, we could embrace floods and promote life at the same time.

Puyallup Project (2016-2017, Tacoma, WA, USA)

Last year, I was an artist and postdoctoral research fellow at University of Washington-Tacoma supported by a Fulbright Scholarship. Below is one of the arts-based projects developed during this time, a process of connecting with the community and scientists, collecting memories, photos, maps and other memories about the Puyallup River in order to learn about how the community had related to the river.

Images from the Puyallup Project.

I developed the exhibition Let the River Draw Again with a mural about the river, a video, collages, some drawings, old photos and maps of the channelization works and questions about how we relate with rivers in urban areas. I learned that Puyallup People had lived for thousands of years sustainably and that in the beginning of the twentieth century the river was channelized to control it.

However, recently, there is good news that Pierce County (WA) is developing a project to reconnect the river with the floodplains.

For me, this is a sign of how we can change the paradigm of controlling rivers to a paradigm of living with them. We need to design plans of coexistence instead of plans of defense from rivers and from nature in general.

How can we learn from the places and their ecological dynamics to evolve with them promoting life and resilience?

How can we learn from those who have lived in a place over centuries and from their culture?

From my perspective, art can facilitate the conversation and raise questions about our relationship with the place.

I am now drawing some of the possible futures for the river in the place where I live in order to share them and promote dialogue and hope about how our relationship with the place could be.

Katrine Claassens

About the Writer:
Katrine Claassens

Katrine Claassens' paintings reflect her interest in climate change, urban ecology, and internet memes. She also works as a science, policy and climate change communicator for universities, think tanks, and governments in South Africa and Canada.

Katrine Claassens

We had been lulled into hypnotic tap-water love. We filled our lives with the tamed water: swimming pools, fish ponds, saturated lush lawns.
Wild Water

In Cape Town, we thought we had domesticated water, but we had only tamed it, and taming can come undone.

In the city the water goes neatly, invisibly through underground pipes. It performs pretty tricks obediently in the fountains and it submits its rivers to discreet concrete channels that run unnoticed by highways, silently whisking the water out to the sea. For many in the city, water comes out of a faucet, clean and guaranteed.

In the Southern Suburbs, we had been lulled into hypnotic tap-water love. We filled our lives with the tamed water: swimming pools, fish ponds, saturated lush lawns. Water provided the very soundtrack of our lives—the soft white noise of sprinklers and faraway lawn-mowers, the shrieks of children in the swimming pools.

Swimming pools are a perfect example of how tamed water can quickly become wild. They need to be constantly tended. Scooped daily of leaves, refreshed with chemicals, topped-up with the hose. For all intents, this is dead water, but water that must be worked at to be kept dead. Without attention it rebels with algae blooms—becoming green, soupy, alive—a new ecosystem where little things can begin to live.

I Am Jealous of Your Summer. Medium: Oil on board. Size: 40 x 40cm. By Katrine Claassens

But there can be wilder water still: in between the blue swimming pools there is secret water, water that comes up like weeds, and is often as unloved. There are blocked drainpipes that hold old water as baths for the birds and breeding ponds for mosquitoes. The murmuring complaints of streams diverted underground in the stormwater drains near the mountain. The occasional flooding of the Liesbeek River, asserting its ancient territory and depth. The excitement of a burst pipe in the street. Sometimes water long gone leaves a stain; a built-over pond where small frogs come back each year, looking for lost water.

And then there is rain, the traveller, the wildest water of all, to whom all places are alike. It is through rain, more precisely the lack of rain, that we came to know water as wild again.

There has been a drought in the Cape, one that has silenced the sprinklers and made the lawns dusty and brown. The city told us ‘Day Zero’ would come – the day when water would not come out the taps. The drought has acquainted us suburbanites with the weight of water as we carry buckets from the shower to water the garden. For the first time in over a hundred years, people queue to collect water from the mountain streams. Water is no longer guaranteed and anonymous, but something that comes from somewhere, something that is precarious and precious.  It brought the outside into the city – faraway dams came into focus and we learned their names, and then what they looked like at their bottoms.

The drought awakened something ancient, something that scratches in the back of the mind about there not being enough. It also harkens to a future time when the nipping sea waters might rise to take the city again. We walk unwillingly into water wilderness; we have stepped outside.

Claudia Luna Fuentes

About the Writer:
Claudia Luna Fuentes

Claudia's poems and visual works are inspired by the nearby nature (forest and desert). Recent works deal with the relationship between people and water, and the interaction of the social, ethical, and spiritual.

Claudia Luna Fuentes

Water: the blood of the world. Creative processes around.

I grew up in a desert, where the sun calcinates the tender buds that have no protection from trees or roofs, where the water slowly evaporates at 45 degrees centigrade. Here there are urban communities that see the water of their rivers contaminated by industries, and rural communities that defend water from the dispossession of cities or the presence of toxic waste deposits. And also, in counterpoint, I grew up with a family that was looking for water to submerge their bodies. That was my childhood: trips to the heart of the desert to swim in pools of water of the valley of Cuatrociénegas and see silhouettes of fish, turtles and grasses, salts and their marks.

Some poems give an account of this relationship, and also some photographs of oxidized metals by the action of water, which account for the work of workers in the desert.

The presence in the community of actions and elements originated from art has provoked a reflection beyond art.
Forest, water, and community

I started writing about forest and water, from a training that made me cross 28 kilometers of the Sierra Madre Oriental. There began the spell, observing the darkness I entered, and then, the dawn with the frozen mantle of fog refreshing my face. Spider webs full of dew were added like diamonds because of the sun that was beginning to appear, also the needles of the bright pines with the soft humidity deposited, the perfumes of the flowers and the earth, the gift of the landscape. I wrote a text in a local newspaper. This writing resonated with an inhabitant of Saltillo, Alejandro Arizpe, who contacted me to write poems and take photographs of this part of the Sierra Madre, called Sierra de Zapalinamé. Thus, in 2009 we published Diario de Montaña. Without proposing to us, we set up a movement based on art, which makes visible the protected area of this mountain range, whose wells offer Saltillo more than 60% of the water. This water motivated the foundation of the city and owes its name: Saltillo, Salto de agua: jump of water.

We call this initiative Yo Soy Zapalinamé and it was consolidated, when observing a construction company invading lands next to the protected area. The work includes publication of poems, a conservation guide to the mountains, reading poems, concerts in nature itself and a musical festival in the protected area.

We also convened through social networks and media, to form a collective citizen that saw the light in 2014 and performs interventions of urban art called environmental communications, as they include common and scientific names of species, as well as conservation phrases.

We are currently in the process of proposing a legal figure that allows citizens to acquire, with small contributions, a percentage of the protected area and avoid reducing the number of hectares.

Personal work

The creative process led me to generate a different support to the book for the poems. In 2014, invited by the Contemporary Art Gallery MACO, Quintana Roo, I wrote chronicles about the biodiversity of the jungle and mangroves; They were made during an expedition with the artists Irma Palacios, Gabriel Macotela, Alberto Castro Leñero, José Castro Leñero, Patricia Soriano, Teresa Zimbrón and Mauricio Colin.

Water became important, until it became a collection of poems. With the support of a PECDA Coahuila 2014 scholarship, I wrote a book of poems initially called “What saves a legion of fog”, inspired by the water and biodiversity of the Sierra de Zapalinamé.

For the reading of this book of poems, I invited the sound artist Mike Campos. We did interventions in book fairs in Saltillo and Monclova, where water is a controversial issue. For these readings we collect sounds of water, stones, grass and wind in the protected area, and we include water sounds in real time.

And as part of the same effort, in 2015 I gave a workshop for young people based in the protected natural area; the participants generated poems and a piece with sound records of the site.

Shortfilm images: “2046. Year of Our Lady The Fog”, a collaboration between Claudia Luna Fuentes and videographer Reginaldo Chapa.
Shortfilm images: “2046. Year of Our Lady The Fog”, a collaboration between Claudia Luna Fuentes and videographer Reginaldo Chapa.

Video: Water: Our Skin

POEM: “Fog” (excerpt). Read the entire poem here.

It is said that fog is a very low cloud, which is made of tiny drops of water that never stop falling. It is said that fog in order to be fog, must be so thick that it obstructs the vision; that if you look ahead, it is possible to see no more than one kilometer. All that is true, but we say that Fog is the will of Water, the Water that walks standing behind a veil. We say the Fog is our Lady and it is sacred.
— Poem by Claudia Luna Fuentes, from “2046, year of our lady The Fog. (Versión Gerardo Mendoza Garza)”

Recently, in collaboration with videographer Reginaldo Chapa, I produced a short film that has as a script part of the poetry collection “What saves a legion of fog”, now under the title 2046: Year of Our Lady the Fog. Mike Campos generated the soundtrack; is also conceptualizing sound pieces from this book of poems.

Currently I continue with interventions in rusty cans found in expeditions to the desert, I add images of flora and fauna of the desert, and also words.

Agua útero desierto, Saltillo, 2018
Agua útero desierto, Saltillo, 2018

As part of this poetics, from recycled glass and ceramics I generate containers and elements that store water or reflect on it. I create visual poems made with earth tones obtained from the site, liquid gold leaf, candelilla wax and filaments of ixtle extracted from the lechuguilla -a plant present in the interconnection of desert and forest-. I use water from a spring in the protected area, mixed with my blood, in reference to the struggles and conflicts over water, and also, to allude to the foundation of life: water.

This is my conversation with water, which has allowed the presence in the community of actions and elements originated from art, to provoke a reflection beyond art. I look for the representation of reality, from step to action in reality itself.

Nazlı Gürlek

About the Writer:
Nazlı Gürlek

Nazli Gurlek is an artist, curator and art writer based between Istanbul and Palo Alto, California. Her work focuses on the physical, emotional, spiritual dimensions of the body, and the micro-politics of affect.

Nazli Gürlek
Istanbul and Palo Alto

Water is not “urban” or “rural” to me. Water is not this or that concept; it is not separation. It is wholeness, connectedness, oneness. Sacred.

ONE is the choreography of bones, veins, cells, the pineal gland and the spinal chord. This is, ultimately, the choreography of water. Water that flows inside the human body and binds its parts together.

ONE is my performance art piece inspired by a wall painting dated around 6500 BC, discovered inside a house at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük (7,100 BC – 5,500 BC, Konya plain, Anatolia, Turkey).

Çatalhöyük, 7,100 BC – 5,500 BC, Konya plain, Anatolia, Turkey. Photo: Nazlı Gürlek, 2017

Çatalhöyük holds evidence of the transition from settled villages to urban agglomeration, which was maintained in the same location for nearly 2,000 years. It features a unique streetless settlement of houses clustered back to back with roof access into the buildings. Its eighteen levels of Neolithic occupation include wall paintings, reliefs, sculptures and other symbolic and artistic features. Together they testify to the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as we, humans, adapted to sedentary life. During my first visit to Çatalhöyük in June 2016 and throughout the meticulous research period that followed it, I have been fascinated by how the society was organised by small routine rituals including a rich production of wall paintings. Art and symbolism seem to have played an integral part in the formation of society. What can we learn from it today, I wondered, and how can we compare it to our own society?

Çatalhöyük wall painting, circa 6500 BC, courtesy of Çatalhöyük research project.

The wall painting that has inspired my performance art piece came to my attention during that very first visit. I was captivated by it at first sight. It was so mysterious yet entirely familiar. Since then I have been contemplating its meaning.

The painting seemed to me to mimic the body—it seemed to move. It seemed to document a process and it was the process itself. It was at once kinetic, volatile, fluid and hollow. It was both abstract and somatic. It reminded me of flesh, bones and nerves; of corporeal vigour. It also reminded me of rivers that flow unhindered; life- giving energy, the power of creation and the boundless source.

The painting was believed to have been created as a part of a ritual. So I created a new ritual to explore its meaning. My ritual brought together four different ways of expression: painting, documentation, movement, and sound. It involved two 9-metre rolls of paper with drawings that I had made in response to the Çatalhöyük painting; visual documentation of the excavation process showing the unveiling of the painting and a live performance based on bodily movements of a performer. A soundtrack based on excavation sounds that I had recorded at the site mixed with sounds of water flows accompanied the performance.

ONE (2017), Nazli Gurlek, performer Asli Bostancı, 23 September 2017, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC), Istanbul

The performance took place last September on an open terrace in Istanbul overlooking the Bosphorus between 5 and 8 pm centering on the sunset at 7 pm. In the course of the 3 hours the painted rolls were gradually unfolded by the performer as she interacted with the paintings with her own body. She had a series of props at her disposal: cordage, five balls with reflective surfaces, and soil in two copper bowls.

ONE is ultimately the choreography of water. Water that unites us with each other and with oceans, seas, rivers and all forms of life that have ever existed and will ever exist. Water that is timeless and boundless reminding us that everything on Earth is just ONE big harmonious whole.

Water is Remembrance

Before art and spirituality became their own concepts, parallel tracks separate from each other as well as from life and Earth, they were embedded together in the way we moved through our days. Spirituality and art were one and the same thing: the sacredness of greeting the sun, the moon and the stars; celebrating the life-giving essence of water, the seasons, the cyclic living and our embeddedness in the grand web of life. This is what it meant to be human –human in a deep belonging and respect for life- and Çatalhöyük could be the unique example of an urban agglomeration based on such principles. Our bodies still carry this imprint. Our bodies remember.

My encounter with the Çatalhöyük painting and the project ONE that stemmed from it is the story of this remembrance. It is the story of my body remembering the currents of communication and reciprocity between all beings and its embeddedness in those currents with every breath. It is the story of honoring the life-giving essence of water as well as the inspiration it has provided –in my opinion– to the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük to make that painting.

Water is not “urban” or “rural” to me. Water is not this or that concept; it is not separation. It is wholeness, connectedness, oneness. Water for me is not a metaphor nor a vessel of dialogue or exchange. It is not a resource, property nor currency. Water is sacredness. It is the experience of my own very intimate embodiment on Earth, the imprint of my being and my connectedness to all other beings. Water is also primeval, preceding and outliving my own little embodied being on Earth. It is what makes my body remember how to be a human, a woman, fully awake to the magic of Earth.

Spirituality and art in the face of water -that runs through pipes in our cities just like blood runs through our veins- are one and the same thing, as our bodies remember, embedded in the way we move through our days. I do see that such growing awareness is awakening cities to the magic of Earth, as it once was, in the times of Çatalhöyük.

Video credit: ONE (2017), Nazli Gurlek, 23 September 2017, 17:00-20:00, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC), Istanbul. Performer Asli Bostancı, curator Simge Burhanoglu, sound designer Yusuf Huysal. The performance was held in the context of RCAC’s exhibition entitled “The Curious Case of Çatalhöyük” celebrating the 25th year of the excavations and as a parallel event to the 15th Istanbul Biennial. It was produced in collaboration with Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations and Performistanbul. Special thanks to Prof. Ian Hodder.

Basia Irland

About the Writer:
Basia Irland

Basia Irland is an author, artist, blogger for National Geographic and activist who creates international water projects.

Basia Irland

These few brief excerpts are chosen to contrast how rivers in cities are viewed as sacred, as dumping grounds for every form of pollution, and as concrete conveyance channels.
I am in love with rivers. And most of the global rivers I have had the privilege to hang out with flow smack through the center of villages and cities. The reason towns are located along the banks of rivers is to take advantage of them for transportation (of merchandise, as a floatation mechanism for wood, and as another “road system” for people), for recreation, and most importantly as a source of potable water.

“Ice Receding/Books Reseeding” projects. “Cleo reading TOME II.” 300-pound ephemeral ice sculpture embedded with native riparian seeds. Photo: Basia Irland

I create projects including “A Gathering of Waters,” which connect communities along the entire length of rivers; and a series (“Ice Receding/Books Reseeding”) that are ice books carved from frozen river water, embedded with an ecological text of native riparian seeds, and then placed back into the stream to foster restoration efforts.

My two books, “Water Library” and “Reading the River, the Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland” both focus exclusively on international water issues.

Book Cover, “Reading the River, The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland.” 2017]

I also write a blog for National Geographic about international rivers, written in the first person from the perspective of the water. The few brief excerpts that follow are chosen due to the contrast of how rivers in cities are viewed as sacred, as dumping grounds for every form of pollution, and as concrete conveyance channels. The full blog posts can be read on my website (projects and then blogs).

I look forward to our continuing dialogue about issues of water in cities, which are complex, intriguing, and instructive.

  1. Chaobai River. Beijing, China
Chaobai River. Beijing, China. Photo: Basia Irland

I am the Chaobai River, the city of Beijing’s largest source of potable water. It is a huge responsibility providing over 25 million people with enough hydration to survive! When released from the dam, my water flows for 59 miles (95 kilometers) into Beijing, the capital of China, initially through an open canal, and then part of me enters into iron and steel pipes, so that some of my liquid does not see daylight again until a person turns on the tap, and I emerge into a residential sink, bathtub, or toilet.

Beijing used to have as many as 200 rivers; today very little remains natural about any of my water, as I have been artificially channelized, and managed through elaborate urban planning.

Further discussion will ensue about Chinese “sponge cities.”

  1. Maenam Ping. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Maenam Ping. Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Basia Irland

On the night of the twelfth lunar month during the full moon at the end of the rainy season, communities gather along my banks to pay homage to me, and my water spirits.

This festival of lights is called Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง). The name is translated as “to float a basket,” and refers to the tradition of making krathong or buoyant, banana-stem sculptures that are decorated with folded banana leaves and contain flowers, incense, candles, and coins (an offering to the river spirits). These sculptures are floated on my moist skin in the evening forming a candle-lit parade dancing downstream.

  1. Bagmati River. Kathmandu, Nepal
Bagmati River. Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Basia Irland

I am clogged with human ash and bits of bone. I have always borne the remains of the dead, who are taken to the Pashupatinath Temple on my banks near Kathmandu, Nepal, placed on pyres, ignited, and blessed in Hindu ceremonies. The cremated are swept into my murky waters to plod along toward the confluence with the great mother Ganga as I join other tributaries downstream.

My primary role is as a source of spiritual salvation for millions of Hindus, who take a dip within my waters. And yet, at this particular site, my plight has been the same for decades — an open sewer, full of garbage from an ever-increasing population. I try to flow, but really, I just slog along. There have been gallant efforts by local valley dwellers in recent years to try and clean my body and rid my ribs of slush and guck, but it is an overwhelming task.

  1. Portneuf River. Pocatello, Idaho
Portneuf River. Pocatello, Idaho. Photo: Basia Irland

I flood. That is what I — and all my cousins — do from time to time. It is part of our rhythm. In their hubris, humans build cities and towns right on our banks, then get upset with us when our waters rise and destroy some of their property. They try to control us by building dams and straightening our courses so that we no longer flow naturally, aiding the hydrologic cycle, creating meanders, spreading silt, and sustaining entire ecosystems of aquatic life, plants, and animals.

It is a sad tale of how people cannot think of me as a living being, but rather as a nuisance. Here is how they have mistreated me: They have encased my body in 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) of concrete, putting me in a straightjacket so that there is nothing natural about me anymore. I am not even called a river, but rather a “channel”.  Locals sometimes refer to me as “the moat” or “the bunker”.

  1. Kamo River. Kyoto, Japan
Kamo River. Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Basia Irland

I have heard that some communities are not very friendly to their rivers, but many friends everyday walk the paths along my shores, ride bikes, have picnics, push baby strollers, and bask in the colors of the nearby trees with cherry blossoms in spring, and red maple leaves in fall.

  1. Amstel River. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amstel River. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Photo: Basia Irland

Any visitor to this city will notice a lot of plastic trash floating on my surface, and there are currently attempts to clean up my 60 miles (97 kilometers) of canals. One such venture, Plastic Whale, is a company that fishes plastic bottles and other debris from my water and transforms the trash into material to make a boat that will be used to fish for more plastic. Boat Number Seven is constructed from over seven thousand plastic bottles that might otherwise have found their way out to sea.

Robin Lasser

About the Writer:
Robin Lasser

Robin Lasser produces photographs, sound, video, site-specific installations and public art dealing with environmental and social justice issues.

Robin Lasser

Operation Ice Ships: Love Letters in the Time of Climate Change

The ice ships are clear and black ice cubes, in the shape of the Titanic, melt in front of the camera, to a soundtrack of love letters sourced from the community.
Melting glaciers may be the most visible barometers of climate change. The fatal collision of the Titanic comes to mind, when thinking of the glacier as an icon. Somehow love makes its way into both scenarios. To love is to connect, to protect and ultimately to care. Or do we destroy what we love? This film references the science of melting ice, rising sea levels, and the trauma of love in the time of climate change.

Video: Operation Ice Ships: Love Letters in the Time of Climate Change, 16-minute two channel mapped video installation, 2017

Technical notes and community engagement

The ice ships are clear and black ice cubes, in the shape of the Titanic. They melt in front of the camera, the contents of the melt down literally create the landscapes/environments they are filmed in. The love letters in the sound track are sourced from the community.

In the film, the love letters are gifted by San Jose State University students. I head the Photography Department and often engage my students in community-based pieces that highlight environmental and social justice issues. I do this as a form of activism, a way to work metaphorically and at the same time activate the communities I live and work within.

This climate justice project references water in relationship to the city of San Jose. Our students have emigrated from around the globe, the sound track reverberates with love stories spoken in multiple languages. The local meets global with our shared global commons, our oceans and seas.

Proposal for film projection onto exterior gallery façade, Pensacola University, Florida 2017. Photo: Robin Lasser

The project crossed the nation and premiered at Pensacola University in Florida. The University is in close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. The gulf oil spill is recognized as the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In Florida the film was mapped and projected onto the gallery exterior façade. The right-hand side of the façade reminiscent of the shape of a typical water tower. Pensacola students drew love letters onto the face of floating Japanese lanterns. The students activated the floating lanterns and read their love letters in open-mic format for the duration of the event. The project continues to travel, the most recent iteration taking place at the Albrecht Kemper Museum of Art in a show curated by Marguerite Perret tilted: “Memory of Water: Defining a Sense of Place in the Hydrosphere.”

Film projection onto exterior gallery façade, hand drawn floating lanterns, Pensacola University, Florida 2017. Photo: Robin Lasser
Marguerite Perret

About the Writer:
Marguerite Perret

Marguerite Perret conducts collaborative, arts-based research that scrutinizes the narratives inherent at the interstices of art, science, healthcare and personal experience.

Marguerite Perret

The Snæfellsjökull glacier, visible from Reykjavik, is disappearing. Vatnajökull and Langjökul glaciers may be gone by the end of the century. Climate change will be challenging here as everywhere. But Iceland is not Iceland without glaciers.
Love, Ice and Tourism in Reykjavik

Tiny bubbles. Air trapped in glittering chunks of ice on black sand, the remnants of icebergs broken away from the mother glacier and torn apart by turbulent waters at the mouth of the Jökulsárlón lagoon. Some are small as a fist and others large as a tour bus. Most drift out to sea, but others languish on the beach quietly liquefying, providing the 2.3 million tourists who visit Iceland annually with another spectacular selfie moment. If you look closely, you can see rivulets of water under the surface collecting in air pockets like tears, as if the ice is crying from the inside out.

Close up of air bubbles in glacial ice at the Jökulsárlón lagoon, captured with a toy microscope. Photo: Marguerite Perret

These bubbles are miniature atmospheric time capsules. Glacial ice stores information about climatic conditions dating back tens of thousands of years held in the captive breath of ancient forests, Vikings and volcanoes. Analysis of carbon dioxide levels in ice core samples evinces increases from 250 parts per million (ppm) in 1900 to 407 ppm in 2017. Correspondingly, 2017 was among the warmest years on record.

The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon sits at the base of an outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull in the south-east part of the country. It is the largest glacier in Europe. Hundreds of daily visitors are enchanted by the luminous aquamarine ice and blue water, but most don’t make the connection that the lake is a symptom of an accelerating thaw that expands annually.

Wish you were here. Networking with nature at two outlet glaciers, part of the Vatnajökull, Southeast Iceland. Photo: Marguerite Perret

Four hours to the west the capital city of Reykjavik is benefiting from a booming economy driven largely by the tourist industry. It is the portal to the country’s natural wonders such as Jökulsárlón which can be accessed by an all-day round-trip bus tour. The famous Gullfoss waterfall, which is fed by the Langjökull glacier, is even closer at only an hour and a half drive away. The Snæfellsjökull glacier, visible from Reykjavik, is rapidly disappearing. The larger Vatnajökull and Langjökul glaciers may be gone by the end of the century. Climate change will be challenging here as everywhere. Rising seas levels, changes in precipitation and an increase of volcanic activity—are all possibilities. But one thing is clear. Iceland is not Iceland without glaciers.

Rainbow tourists. Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls is fed by the Langjökul glacier. Photo: Marguerite Perret

Tourism, either directly or indirectly, drives much of the city’s cultural innovation and employment opportunities. Clearly the presence of too many humans disturbs fragile ecologies, trampling surface vegetation, polluting water and soil, and spreading invasive species. But if the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy, the people we met were passionately in LOVE with these places, reinforcing our contention that personal experience with non-human nature is essential to conservation.

And of course, Icelanders love this landscape best of all. Reykjavik has committed to go carbon neutral by 2040. Is it too late?

Can love save the ice caps?

Tourists at black sand beach with cheap attempt to replenish the glaciers. In the shadow of the Snæfellsjökull glacier, west Iceland, July 2017. Photo: Marguerite Perret
Mary Mattingly

About the Writer:
Mary Mattingly

Mary Mattingly creates sculptural ecosystems in urban spaces. Mary Mattingly’s work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, International Center of Photography, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana, Storm King, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Palais de Tokyo.

Mary Mattingly
New York

Building trends, safety, sewage systems, drinking and agricultural needs have formed and reformed urban waterways.  The work I do around urban water is rooted in personal experiences and has expanded most immediately by what I’ve learned about water privatization struggles around the world. I grew up in an agricultural town in the U.S. near Springfield, Massachusetts, where drinking water was polluted with DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethan) and runoff from fertilizer.  Without accessible clean water, the people I knew had an acute sensitivity to water as it is connected to human and ecological health. Because water is itself a monopoly (nothing else does what it does for life) and everyone needs the right to water, it cannot be managed by a single entity. Like air, water doesn’t have an alternative.

I wanted to co-learn techniques for living in a city acetic-ly, and to envision an urban center that could be less dependent on material supply chains.
I began creating interdependent living systems on rivers as a way to share stories about what is possible in urban spaces.  I want this work to build coalitions of people who support more public commons, reinforce water as a human right, and who believe in building shared knowledge. Human-created ecosystems offer windows into entire living systems on a scale that is possible for visitors to comprehend and stewards to easily care for: systems with gardens feeding animals and humans, to bees and leftover compost feeding gardens. Since sculptural ecosystems on the water must be contained, participating in them is multisensory. On the water, we need to actively compromise with our neighbors, and we feel its presence as it moves.

In 2006, I wanted to co-learn techniques for living in a city acetic-ly, and to envision an urban center that could be less dependent on material supply chains extracting from rural land, funneling goods through cities, and returning the leftovers to landfills back on rural land.  The “Waterpod” was the first large-scale floating, sculptural living structure I undertook. It was to be a habitat and a public platform for assessing off-the-grid living systems on the waterways of New York City. I led a group of artists, civic activists, scientists, environmentalists, and marine engineers in creating the project. Four people lived on the Waterpod for six months. It was a visible public space that created different types of access to New York’s waterways through undertaking a lengthy permit process, multiple ways to reuse and purify water, and through envisioning additional ways more people can steward water as a commons.

Waterpod leaving South Street Seaport New York, 2009

Artwork about water is often both literal and metaphorical. Rivers run through cities, yet often as city-dwellers we are disconnected from them.  My father grew up running through the tunnels that comprised the Park River underneath Hartford, CT. In the 1940’s the Army Corps of Engineers began to bury it because it was considered unsafe; it was thought to be the cause of multiple floods and pests. Many people who live there haven’t heard of it.

Currently there’s a movement to “daylight” some rivers that run through cities in the United States, as planners learn more about the multiple values of these water sources to the surrounding ecologies.  What happens to the quality of a river and our quality of life when we have more opportunities to tend to the water that runs near our homes?

Rivers determine our livelihoods, lives, and the land, and in 2015 I was able to learn more about the rivers of Des Moines, Iowa through working on a project called “Wading Bridge”. With the surrounding farmland tiled to drain extra rain and irrigation water into the river (bringing with it an abundance of nitrates from fertilizers) the rivers that run through Des Moines are a force. “Wading Bridge” was located six inches under water on the Raccoon River. It was a chance to walk with, in, and through the Raccoon River’s rapid watercourse. The idea inherent in this was that crossing it could allow for an intimacy with a river most people would rather avoid than get to know.

Wading Bridge in Des Moines, 2015

To explain a project like “Wading Bridge” is to try to explain the value to both perceptual and physical experience, and the important practice of re-seeing. I wonder if what this revaluing can do for the health of the river, and for its stewardship and care can be profound.

In 2016, I collaboratively formed “Swale”: a public floating food forest in New York City. People can come onto Swale and pick fresh food for free, take part in an event, workshop, or simply visit a floating park. While there, we ask people to engage in pushing forward a local conversation about public food. The experience of being onboard Swale can be uncanny: you feel the movement of the water while watching a land mass covered in perennial edible, medicinal, and pollinator plants rock with the waves atop the barge.

The “Swale” project at Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx, 2016

It’s a provocative public artwork, a stage or a tool for strengthening coalitions that work towards more commons in NYC: amidst a glut of privatization we want to insist that not only is water a commons, but healthy food needs to be reframed as a commons too. Places like Swale can shrink the distance between the health of the water and the land, and shrink a gap in access to nutritional foods.

Through Swale, I’ve been able to see how what I’ll call active and provocative artwork can be a folly, a beacon, and can be buttressed and cared for. People from fields of art, agriculture, water conservation, and people who care about fresh food, or clean water, and healthy land all steward Swale in different ways. For me, this work is a reminder that a continued awareness of our interconnectedness leaves us with less room for indifference.

Bonnie Sherk

About the Writer:
Bonnie Sherk

Bonnie Ora Sherk is an ecological artist, landscape architect, and educator whose work has been shown and published internationally for over four decades, most notably and recently in the 2017 Venice Biennale, and currently at Parco Arte Vivente in Turin, Italy.

Bonnie Ora Sherk
San Francisco

It began as “Sitting Still l”, a temporary performance installation. It evolved into urban agriculture, ecology, multi-arts and education center that transformed acres of derelict land fragments.
Islais Creek Watershed

The Islais Creek Watershed is the largest Watershed in San Francisco, California, and one that has played a significant role in my life and art for decades beginning in 1970, when I found an area where garbage and water had collected because of the building of a major freeway interchange.  This place soon became the site for Sitting Still l, a temporary performance installation in which I became the human figure in an evening gown sitting in this environment facing the audience of people moving slowly in their cars.

Sitting Still l © 1970 Bonnie Ora Sherk

At the time, I thought I was demonstrating simply how a seated human could radically transform an environment.

What I did not know, is that I was also facing my future:  What would become, beginning in 1974, Crossroads Community (the farm), a pioneering, internationally known, urban agriculture, ecology, multi-arts and education center that transformed acres of derelict, adjacent land fragments including the Freeway Interchange, into a new City Farm Park and one of the first Alternative Art Spaces in the US; the northern frame of the Islais Creek Watershed, which I am still working on—and in—today; the proposed Islais Creek Watershed Northern Gateway Community Park in the currently neglected and flooding 101 Interchange area; and the realization years later, that I had actually been sitting in Islais Creek, water that rose to the surface because of the freeway construction.

Before and After: Crossroads Community (the farm) © 1976 – Before / © 1980 – After Bonnie Ora  Sherk

Later, in the mid-1990s, I found myself developing the OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park at a four public school, contiguous site (2 High Schools, Middle School, Early Education School) where I had been invited by the Principal of the Middle School to develop A Living Library. During the A.L.L. Master Planning Process that engaged hundreds of students and community members, we discovered old maps that showed the site of Balboa High School, one of the schools, with the Islais Creek flowing beneath it, which had caused massive flooding to the cafeteria which had to be closed, as well as flooding to many homes in the area.

I then realized that I was working in the same Watershed as The Farm, not by design—but through magnificent synchronicity—demonstrating once again, as I had with Sitting Still l, the power of being in one’s alignment, the power of art, and the power of water.

Since then, upstream in the Watershed, the OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park, incorporating my program, A Living Library (A.L.L,), which is a planetary genre of diverse place-based, Branches, meant to be developed world-wide, and interlinked through Green-Powered Digital Gateways, and sponsored by the non-profit I founded and direct, Life Frames, Inc., has taken root, grown, and thrived.

A.L.L. here, over the years, has been working with thousands of students (PreK-12) and community, in hands-on learning by doing, transforming acres of land into ecological wonderlands and Learning Zones that include natives—both riparian and drought tolerant—as well as organic fruit, vegetable, flowers, and herb gardens and other elements.

Bernal Heights Living Library Nature Walk Master Plan © 2003 Bonnie Ora Sherk

In 2002, I was invited by another school Principal to create A Living Library at her school and neighborhood in Bernal Heights, also in the same Watershed.  Through that A.L.L. Planning Process with students and the community, we decided to develop the Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk that would interconnect diverse community assets – schools, parks, public housing, streets, and other open spaces in the neighborhood through development of a series of resilient native landscapes with interpretive signage, all leading to the currently hidden Islais Creek at the south side of one of the parks.

Now in place, this Nature Walk, with beautiful new native landscapes and interpretive signage, is a prototype for interconnecting the eleven communities of the Watershed, and transforming its two interconnecting 101 Freeway Interchanges into Islais Creek Watershed Northern & Southern Gateway Community Parks, and transforming other flooding freeway right-of-way open spaces adjacent to many flooding homes at the confluence of two Creek Forks, into the Islais Creek Watershed Confluence Community Park.

Islais Creek Watershed Map © 20015-18 Bonnie Ora Sherk

These proposed places will do many things simultaneously through systemic ecological design: mitigate flooding, create resilient landscapes responding to climate change, make areas safe and accessible, provide community and school education including green skills job training, create habitat for diverse wildlife species, among other interrelated issues and opportunities.

Video: Islais Creek Watershed © 2018 SF Public Utilities Commission and BayCat

The Creek Water and the Watershed have led me and inspired me to do this work, and serve as a natural framework to understand and demonstrate interconnected systems:  biological, cultural, technological.  The new Gold is Old; it’s Fresh Water!

Nadia Vadori-Gauthier

About the Writer:
Nadia Vadori-Gauthier

Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, artist, PhD (Esthetics, Université Paris-8), Body-Mind Centering® Teacher.

Nadia Vadori-Gauthier

The qualities of water, allied with my experience of dance, both in the studio and in nature and the city, greatly influence my way of entering into contact with people and environments.
Dancing water

Water, with its physical properties, is a primordial element of my dance and performance practice, in relation to movement, rhythm, space, and life itself. To begin with, our bodies, like that of the Earth, are principally composed of water. For us, proportions vary from 75 percent water for a newborn to 50 percent for an old person.

Dance 510 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / June 6th 2016, 11:32 p.m., Port de Bercy, Paris 13th, France. Dancing with Benoît Lachambre.The sky has been milky for a few days and everything seems at the same time strange and familiar, a little unreal. The waters of the Seine starts to recede. The finance Ministry is standing in water. Image from video:

Water has several fundamental characteristics:

  1. Relationship to life: It underlies all life in matter. On the Earth, no life is possible without the presence of water.
  2. Relationship to movement: It is mobile and may take different forms. Its plasticity allowsit to change unceasingly. Water travels, espousing and shaping the territories it passesthrough. Its trajectories are often curved or spiral, with a certain unpredictable quality.
  3. Relationship to the earth: It has a weight and pours towards the earth with the force of gravity.
  4. Relationship to space: On the other hand, it has a quality of capillarity, ascending,
    plantlike, which allows it, for instance, to rise along a strip of cotton or expand towards space in every direction, like the surface film of a waterdrop.
  5. Volumetric quality: Between these two antagonistic and complementary forces of gravity [3] and anti-gravity [4] there opens up a multi-directional volumetric space, with no hierarchy among its various parts. To draw a parallel with the dancing body, for instance, this quality allows a body to be lived “in 3D,” moving in multiple directions, as opposed to a vertical body seen in “2D,” with a front and back, a top and bottom. This summons an “immersive” dimension of feeling, rather than an overview, distanced or separated from consciousness. When one dances from this fluid base, consciousness accompanies movement. It precedes or derives from it, inseparable from lived experience.
  6. Rhythmic quality: Obedient to forces of propulsion or aspiration, it behaves dynamically, creating patterns in movement: waves, vortices, fluid rhythms. In our bodies, our liquids have different rhythms. They rebound in our membranes.
  7. Quality of resonance: Water is an element that captures and preserves sonic or
    mechanical vibrations and arranges them in natural models (as in cymatics) [1].

These qualities of water, allied with my experience of dance, both in the studio and in nature and the city, greatly influence my way of entering into contact with people and environments. They lead me, through sensation, to enter into a non-hierarchical and non-anthropocentric relationship with earth and space, but also into vibratory resonance with places and materials of my surroundings or with the natural elements.

For the project One Minute of Dance a Day, I created some hundred dances involving the element of water. But even when water is not visibly present in my surroundings, the body out of which my dances begin is principally liquid, moved by a fluid dynamic. By taking as the basis from which my work begins the fluid matter of the body and its cells, I realized that I enter differently into resonance with places and things. I find an alliance with what surrounds me.

Video: Dance 1186 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / April 13th 2018, 11:12 a.m., calle de la Racheta, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy.


This particularity is also one of the characteristics of my practice of Body-Mind Centering®. This practice was created and developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, dancer, researcher, dance teacher, and ergotherapist whose practice combines yoga and martial arts. Contrary to other practices of somatic education, this is neither a technique nor a method. Its tools are extremely precise and refined, but there is no particular protocol to follow. Unlike techniques such as Feldenkrais and Alexander, which most specifically consider the muscular-skeletal system, BMC, like Continuum Movement, is based on the experience of the body at a cellular level and a somatic training in fluid movement. Through movement and touch, the practice favors the lived experience of flux physics, that of a fluid base taking as reference the constant navigation of all things. This particularity influences my research. In effect, the body is not envisaged in the perspective of fixed form, identity, or posture; it renews itself constantly within a larger flux. It does not merely travel through space, it transforms itself, without changing place.

The body’s fluids (cytoplasm, interstitial fluid, blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid …) are differentiated by movement and touch. They have different expressions, rhythms, densities. The soma of BMC is a fluid body-mind with its cells. There is fluid within the cells and fluid outside them. The exchanges between intra- and extracellular fluids are the liquid respiration of the body: cellular breathing. It takes place in all the tissues: bones, organs, muscles, etc. A cell is a system in constant evolution that records innumerable molecular variations. In this context, it is the metaphoric base of a vibratory resonance common to all that lives. From this vibratory substratum, still formless, there open out new sensorial territories, spaces of resonance by which new forms may be generated.

For the past twelve years, my explorations have progressively led me to address my artistic processes through the sensation of the organism’s fluids and the cellular breathing of the tissues. This brings about a base, in constant motion, from which I enter into dialogue with the elements, places, and things. I find an alliance with materials. My body goes beyond its own organic form to adjust to its surroundings in a vibratory, almost musical fashion, forming harmonies or dissonances. These vibrations include light, space, and color.

This practice establishes modes of corporeality and interrelations that involve a primacy ofmovement and lived experience of the living body, in relation to other bodies and its surroundings. This specificity is essential to my work. It generates its own modes, at once single and collective, non-hierarchical. It brings about a focus on process rather than form, it enters into flows and rhythms rather than focusing on an object. It is, for me, a practice of individuation, of becoming, the creation or reorganization of the self. It facilitates an intersubjectivity that welcomes difference, distance, decentering. It arranges the collective horizontally, encouraging freedom of rhythm and movement in each element.

In the city, more than elsewhere, it seems important to me that we remain connected to nature and its elements, including water, the basis of life and its constant fluctuation. Cities that rivers run through, cities beside the ocean, cities refreshed by fountains or canals, have a special sweetness inviting to reverie and the imagination. The movements of the surfaces of water make the reflections of the sky and the world around them dance; they move them and give them rhythm. Thus the geometric lines of buildings and spatial perception become more sinuous or undulatory. They voyage and thought ripples along with them, opening our senses to constantly renewed possibilities for movement. This fluidity keeps us connected to the forces of life and imagination. It allows us to reinvent ourselves in connection with each other, tracing moving and inclusive lines between our differences.

Video: Dance 579 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / August 14th 2016, 10:05 a.m., Water Mirror, Quais de la Garonne, Bordeaux, France.

Video: Dance 558 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / April 15th 2016, 3:12 p.m., Duranti street, Paris 11th, France.

Even in the absence of water, every day I dance the water of cities, the water of our bodies, and their rhythms of fluid pulsation. I am sometimes accompanied by figures that influence my imagination and my dances; among them: Dionysus and Shiva. These two divinities are said to have a single origin. They are both masters of the fluid 2 element and of metamorphoses, as well as masters of time, particularly of a cyclical, tidal time. They are thus profoundly connected to wild nature and its cycles of life/death/life. In spring, water and sap rise up in stalks; nature flowers. Then does Dionysus appear, presiding over the rite of blossoming. All around, water is with us in the trunks and branches of trees, in plants, flowers, and all their vegetal manifestations. To dance water is also, for me, to dance in cellular resonance with the dynamic fluid movement underlying vegetal forms; it is to dance with humans and animals, dance in rain or rivers; dance the pulsing blood in arteries and veins.

The liquid dimension of experience allows me to be in relation to the world. This relation is vibratory and solidary. Water, in me and outside me, connects me to life and nature. Thisdimension of experience, which I explore alone and in a group, particularly with le Corps collectif (The Collective Body), contributes to what Antonin Artaud called “healing life” [3] by restoring its fluid poetic forces to a life that the modern world has drained of its powers.

Video: Dance 182 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / July 14th 2015, 11:20 p.m., Saint- Michel place, Paris 6th district, France.

Dance 227 (One Minute of Dance a Day), Nadia Vadori-Gauthier / August 28th 2015

[1] “La vibration est à l’origine de toute forme,” , in Mondes intérieurs, Mondes extérieurs – Partie 1 – Akasha, a film by Daniel Schmidt, REM Publishing Ltd. Film (Responsible Earth Media Ltd.), 2009.
[2] David Smith, The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South of India, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
[3] Antonin Artaud, Le Théâtre et son double [1964], Paris, Gallimard, « Folio », 2009.

Aloïs Yang

About the Writer:
Aloïs Yang

Aloïs Yang is a media artist, interaction designer and experimental musician who produces work that investigates the perception of time and space on both “outer” physical world and “inner” metaphysical levels of awareness.

Aloïs Yang

It all begins with listening.

I am a sound and media artist, who spent most of my life time in cities. Urban sonic environment can often be overwhelming, saturated with sonic informations constantly coming at us. Consciously or subconsciously we all build multiple protective filters so to only receive what we want to hear. In my experience, these passive listening processes take a lot of unwanted attention and energy. Instead of looking for calm places or for some silence that does not exist, I developed a habit of “listening meditation”. It is a practice to free my mind from thoughts and to focus in the present. I treat all sounds equally and appreciate them as they are. By opening up my whole sensibility to a certain level I reach a point where I am able to expand and lose myself freely as sound in space. This practice enables me to observe the ever-changing time perceptions offered by the movement of sound. These inspiring moments often lead me to produce new creations based on field recordings. This is how my interest for water and sound began, in artificial surroundings.

How can a tiny event—a drop of water, or the sound of cracking and melting ice—create feedback loops that eventually can be seen as the whole? Every aspect inside a system is connected to others and capable of revealing the bigger picture.
One of the most intriguing discovery I made is that water has the sonic ability to reflect human activities in harmony. It absorbs the directional forces that we push towards our goals and makes things slow down. It reminds us to humbly live with nature.

Some of the first expressions of this work resulted in “Fluid Stones in the Garden” and “Ping Pong Spring Waves”, two recordings based on a “urban meditative sound walk” i did in Vienna, in the Spring 2017.

SOUND 1: “Fluid Stones in the Garden”

 SOUND 2: “Ping Pong Spring Waves”

It was followed by “Micro Loop Macro Cycle”, a series of installation, performance, video, and sound production that investigates environmental cycle system through studies of different states of water. “Micro Loop Macro Cycle” is an ongoing project, that took place in the cities of Turku, Finland and London, U.K in 2017, as well as in the Brazilian’s jungle in 2018.

Sound and water are the primary materials of this project. Sound is used as the communicational medium revealing comprehensive sonic informations about the dynamic states of present time and space. While water, the most common substance on Earth, carrying life and present in almost every biogeochemical cycle systems, is used for this very capacity to highly connect to its surrounding conditions: from large scale environmental changes to small molecular scale variations, from energy waves to shifts in chemical substances. Through the understanding of these notions and the observation of water, we gain insights on systematic interactions. It provides us with measurement and connection, indicating our relationship with nature.

Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 4:16s & 363mb” Recorded at Titanik, Turku, Finland 2017 and in 13:15s & 1145 mb” Recorded at Resilience: Artist in Residence by SILO, Brazil, 2018

The focal point of this project is to present how a tiny event—a drop of water, or the sound of cracking and melting ice—in a given cycle system, creates feedback loops that eventually can be seen as the whole. I also want to show how every aspect inside the system is connected to others and capable of revealing the bigger picture on its own.


VideoMicro Loop Macro Cycle – in 4:16s & 363mb” Recorded at Titanik, Turku, Finland 2017

Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 4:16s & 363mb” Recorded at Titanik, Turku, Finland 2017

Video: Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 5:13s & 425mb” Recorded at Cafe Oto Project Space, London U.K., 2017

Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 5:13s & 425mb” Recorded at Cafe Oto Project Space, London U.K., 2017


Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 13:15s & 1145 mb” Recorded at Resilience: Artist in Residence by SILO, Brazil, 2018

Video: Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 24:50s & 2940mb” Recorded at Resilience: Artist in Residence by SILO, Brazil, 2018

Micro Loop Macro Cycle – in 13:15s & 1145 mb” Recorded at Resilience: Artist in Residence by SILO, Brazil, 2018

Sound production

Based on the recorded materials of “Micro Loop Macro Cycle”, I positioned myself as a studio artist. With the aim of contrasting and balancing between two realms, one is the realm of nature – to obey and reveal the organic sonic informations created by natural phenomena. The other realm is the presence of consciousness – the search for humanistic aesthetics in the form of minimalistic improvisation. This soundtrack will be released in July 2018, on the sound art label and explorative platform 901 editions. For more detailed information about the project please visit here.

During the journey of making “Micro Loop Macro Cycle”, I understood that the most important thing I aim to do with this work, is to raise awareness on the separation we consciously create with the nature realm. When I position myself as the observer, researcher, or artist, I understand that realm intellectually, and establish relationship based on my needs. For instance, it took me few try and fail to understand how to freeze the ice with higher transparency, for aesthetic reasons in the installation set-up. And not to mention the cognitive works I did by using technology to achieve my artistic visions. On the other hand, I had experienced my capabilities to connect with nature in the unconscious, when mind and body are not separated. This beautiful moment happened during the river performance at a rainforest in Brazil, when I place myself in the state of wholeness, when the actions of art disappears, when I eventually became one within.

I don’t see these two relationships with the nature as a conflict, on the contrary, I see shifting these two states of consciousness as forms of resilience in responds to our ever-changing environment. I believe this human-being quality of incorporation between mind and body, inner and outer, to the natural cycling system will be more and more important in our time of high information and technology exposure, and online virtual reality. Especially in the fast urban lifestyle, where the natural forces are hidden or disguise as products, it is much more complex to feel and work instinctively with these natural states of transitions. I see that the challenge in our daily busy life is to answer the question – how do we identify the pure nature within ourselves? To reconnect with our surrounding nature as much as possible, from one small drop of tap water, to an vast ocean. And how to be flexible and stable at the same time? To cycle through dynamic states of mind, circumstances and conditions we have to face, in a seamless, formless, and effortless way, just like water.

Carmen Bouyer

Carmen Bouyer

Carmen Bouyer is a French environmental artist and designer based in Paris. Her recent work involves environmental art education, community events in relation to urban agriculture and stewardship, riverside ecosystem restoration, and researches on Neolithic life way transitions in Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia. Carmen’s artistic works have been presented at Palais de Tokyo and Park in Progress in Paris; The Istanbul Art Fair and Halka Art Center in Istanbul; The Maquis Projects Gallery and Port Izmir 3 Triennale in Izmir; The Salone Satellite in Milan; and Pioneer Works and Flux Factory in New York City. As a designer, Carmen created sustainable and environmental designs and community programs for Till Design, landscape architecture studio; Pioneer Works, center for research and experimentation in contemporary culture; and the New York City Urban Field Station, a research partnership between the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the USDA Forest Service.

8 thoughts on “Artists in Conversation with Water in Cities

  1. Thanks Aloïs for your reply. I understand now better what you meant. Your answer made me think about the idea that the work of art can be transformative for the spectator but also and even more for the artist who has those experiences of connections. Thanks again. All the best.

  2. First of all I would like to thank all of you to make this gathering happened, and also the inspiring works you put on. I feel I had a journey as a drop of water going back to ancient time, being multiple places at the same time, reflecting myself on different faces, listening and learning various language of expressions…. Eventually, united as a whole.

    Dear Antonio, thanks for your comments ! I enjoyed a lot viewing your works, particularly, love the idea of bamboo river, it’s poetic and artistically effective.

    Regarding your question: I would love to know more about your experience in the rainforest in Brazil when you felt part of the whole. How was that? How that happened?

    There’s a lot of ways to describe this experience, some might call it spiritual moment, truth, out of body experience, trance, or be at present. I believe in some cases language can be problematic while sharing this knowledge that came from the gifted potential as a human being. This is also part of the reason why I see my art as a tool to explore the mystics, with the goal of delivering the outcomes as a collective experience.

    I resonate a lot with words from Nadia Vadori-Gauthier, about her body-mind-centering practice. We have different practice and art forms, however, this connection came from deep inside my body, my experience, highly possible the one in the jungle.

  3. Dear Nazli,
    Thanks for your reply. Yes, absolutely, emotions as the first stage and then those emotions can trigger that deeper change and perhaps actions. I really like your comment about our connection to an ancient society through water. Like water connecting all of us, also in time, not just in space. And thanks also for the insights about the feedback. I think it is so interesting what you said about the experience and change that the performer felt. Thanks again.

  4. Dear Carmen and Patrick, many thanks for inviting me to be part of this excellent project. I am proud and excited to be a part of it and I look very much forward to the dialogue flourish.

    Dear Antonio, thanks for commenting on my work. I am truly happy to read that it connected with you and yes, I think that my work connects primarily on an emotional level, as you say, as most art does. But I think, and hope, that at a second moment it manages to forge a deeper trigger, a more psychological one at individual or perhaps even at collective levels. This particular performance piece is inspired by the archeological remnants of a far away society -9000 years far to be precise- but what I intuitively came to realise throughout the process of making it was that we, living in this very precise moment in time, might actually not be at all so different than them. I think that there are some basic things common to all human kind -I can begin to list such things as instincts, emotions, needs etc – and it nourishes us all to focus and grow on such things that we share in common rather than on things that are separating us. Water is certainly one element that we all share in our bodies -we all are made of water physically but water is as well the obvious symbol of the collective unconscious where all the psyche of all humankind collides. I would agree with any of you reading this and thinking how big these topics are and that they certainly go beyond the reach of a single art project. But I also do think that it is a very worthwhile if not necessary aspiration any sort of art could try to seek nowadays. This is at least what I intended the live experience of my performance could inspire the audience to think about. The most immediate feedback from the audience came in having them sit and watch it for the duration of its entire 3 hours despite very cold and windy weather that night. The prevailing aspect that seemed to catch the people seemed to be the piece’s ritualistic nature leaving the audience not being immediately able to put the experience down in words but staying with it and letting themselves being carried away with it. Another feedback that’s been very meaningful to me was my performer’s feedback. She has said that the entire process of this project opened some new doors in her consciousness as a performer and a human being. Precisely as it did to me as well.

    I could tell a lot more but I will stop now to listen to all of you and read and let the work of all of you to sink in in order to contribute to the dialogue.

  5. Thank you Patrick and Carmen for bringing together this exhilarating survey of interconnectivity and radical thoughtfulness in consideration of fluid systems. I am fully absorbed in reading and contemplating these projects and will doubtless have many questions and comments to come and I turn things over in my head. The human heart and brain are composed of over 70% water, so even this mental reflection is based in water.

  6. These are more comments and questions about your works. Sorry for this long post, it is just that I am very excited about your different works.

    Dear Nazli Gürlek,
    Thanks for sharing your work. The paintings you show are so beautiful and it is great that they inspired you to do your project ONE. Yes, for me they look like rivers and irrigation channels arriving everywhere like the veins of the land. I think that your goal to show how we are part of the same whole organism is key to understand that to deal with water we need to deal with the whole system that we are part of. From my perspective, your performance could communicate that feeling of connectedness at a different level, the level of emotions. I am curious to know how the response of the public was. Did you have some feedback?
    Thanks again.

    Dear Claudia Luna,
    Thanks for sharing your work! I love how you describe Sierra Madre Oriental and how your text promoted that collaboration and further actions. I think is great how poetry and activism get together in your work proposing that legal figure to protect the place.
    Could you tell us a little more about how was that expedition in 2014? Did it change your way of understanding water?
    Thanks for sharing the beautiful video and your inspiring poem “2046, year of our lady The Fog”. The last question resonates a lot: “Can the water of your body converse with the water that you contemplate?

    Dear Mary Mattingly,
    Thanks for sharing your work here! It is great to know more about it. I was in New York last summer and I saw Swale in Bronx River but finally I couldn’t go in the open hours. Next time!
    Something you mentioned resonates a lot with my interests. It is the way rivers were buried because they were seen as dangerous. The river here is channelized and a big part of the ancient irrigation channels are buried and transformed in pipes. Therefore, I love the idea of your project Wading Bridge to bring people back to the river, to interact with it, to feel the water. I would like to learn more about that movement to daylight rivers in the United States. Do you have more information, please?
    I think all the questions that Swale raises are so important to imagine how our cities could be.

    Dear Katrine Claassens
    It is really breathtaking the situation you are describing. I am from the South East of Spain and it looks so similar. We haven’t had yet those water cuts but learning about Cape Town I can see how this is not so far away and it is coming very fast. It is real.
    I also think it is great how you pay attention to those little bodies of water that promotes life in cities and that most of the times are not valued.
    I love your painting with the text about Vermont.

    Dear Basia
    Thanks for being part of this dialogue. It was great to share time with you last year!
    I think your work is so important to understand that rivers are more than a line in a map. We can see in your projects and in your posts in National Geographic that rivers are also the communities, the culture, the impacts, the cities, the uses of the water…
    I have noticed how different artist here mention how rivers have been transformed in pipes, like you say about the Chaobai River. It looks like a global thing. I like to imagine all those rivers daylighted again.
    Thanks again!

    Dear Robin Lasser
    Thanks for sharing your work. I think it is a great idea the project with the love letters.
    You ask a question which is very interesting for me “To love is to connect, to protect and ultimately to care. Or do we destroy what we love?” All my work is about trying to generate attachment to the place because I suppose that it means you will take more care of the place. But, what if it is not like that? What if that attachment and love is not enough? What is the clue to promote action?

    Dear Marguerite Perret
    I like how to see global issues in such a small scale in the air bubbles. So interesting. It is amazing the amount of memory in those time capsules.
    I think it is a very interesting discussion about that dichotomy of loving a place and generate impact on it because of the tourism. And your last question is related to Robin Lasser’s work. She also asks about the role of love.
    Thanks for sharing your work!

    Dear Bonnie Ora Sherk,
    Thanks for sharing your work. It is amazing all the work you have done in San Francisco. I was last year there for some days but I couldn’t visit you finally.
    I love the idea of discovering our own watershed as our place. I think our society will be more connected with place if we understand better our watershed dynamics, if we would live in watersheds instead of countries. How are rivers there? What’s their situation?

    Dear Nadia Valori-Gauthier
    Thanks for sharing your inspiring work.
    I really am very interested on how you learn from water properties in order to inform your dance. I am trying to learn from water properties to develop a methodology for artist to work in a place. For instance, water explores, palpates and learns from the place continuously when it is flowing. Can artist do the same when they go to a place to do public art?
    So beautiful your dances. I like specially the one in the fountain and the powerful dance under the rain!

    Dear Aloïs Yang,
    Thanks for sharing your work.
    You open for me this new field regarding water, sound. The sounds you show here take you to another place. Your work, as the work of Marguerite Perret makes me think in the importance of looking in all the scales and how we can go from the small to the big scale or the other way round.
    I would love to know more about your experience in the rainforest in Brazil when you felt part of the whole. How was that? How that happened?

  7. Congratulation to Patrick and Carmen for bringing together all these inspiring artists. I am very grateful to be among them. Thanks also to all the participants for their rich contributions. I have new ideas and insights about water and our connection to water after reading, watching and listening to your great works.

    I have been reading and I would like to share some of my thoughts. I see how all the works promote empathy and even more, the feeling of being part of water and of ecosystems which I think is key to develop a sensitive way of being in place. In addition, some of them generate projects to explore models of being in the city sharing water, food, etc…

    It is great to know about your works.

  8. Congratulations to the Nature of Cities and all of the participating artists for contributing with their work addressing the importance and value of WATER in our lives and the lives of all species and elements. I look forward to our dialogue and other contributors. Thank you for paying attention to this important life resource.

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