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The Worth of Water
Katie Kurtz, 15 Mar 07
Article Photo

Ben Franklin once said, "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.� It's a statement that resonates well with this year's World Water Day theme, Coping With Water Scarcity. The annual event, which falls on March 22, focuses this time on integrated resource management and the ethical, social, and cultural factors involved in dealing equitably with a global crisis.

In addition to the practical and policy elements presented through World Water Day (some of which are displayed in the PDF booklet surveying international commitments and goals for 2015), there are some more conceptual and artistic projects on exhibition around the globe that are worth a mention. Several recent projects explore the scarcity of water and its shifting conditions as a result of climate change.

Miami, Florida

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Standing in Miami heat picturing the subzero Antarctic seems unimaginable – but this is the premise Xavier Cortada uses to show the neighborly aspect of global warming. A series of photographs documenting projects by Cortada in the Antarctic are currently on view at Kunsthaus Contemporary Art Space in Miami. Cortada used a different system of markings for each project to illuminate relationships between the Antarctic and sites elsewhere. Longitudinal Installation uses pairs of shoes to show how people may live across the world from each other but still share a longitudinal line.

Richmond, British Columbia

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Illumination underpins Starfloat as part of the Finn Slough Project by Canadian environmental artist Ingrid Koivukangas. The Finn Slough is a small wetland in Richmond, British Columbia and is also home to a Finnish population (a heritage shared by the artist) whose presence has helped protect the wetland. For Starfloat, Koivukangas painted 99 bulbs with phosphorescent paint that remains glowing after night fall and hung them in trees surrounding the wetland. A companion exhibition to the site specificity of Finn Slough Project is on view at Richmond Art Gallery and features Cellprints, a series of plant cell photographs.

New Delhi, India

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This notion of accenting aspects of a particular landscape in order to draw attention to its ecology is also seen in a recent project by Atul Bhalla and Ravi Agarwal about the river Yamuna. The river Yamuna, considered the daughter of Suyra the Sun God and sister of Yama the God of Death in Hindu mythology, is thought to protect those who step into it from fears about death. Yamuna runs nearly 900 miles and flows through six states in India. It is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. As part of an Eco Art Residency at KHOJ International Artists’ Association in New Delhi, Bhalla and Agarwal (also founder of Toxics Link, an environmental news bulletin) photographed the river at various locations, created an installation and a companion blog.

In an interview for The Hindu (link no longer available), Bhalla talked about what the process of documentation revealed:

“Unlike other countries, if we continue to put the back of our houses towards the river, we can only throw dirt in it and pollute it further. The photographs reveal the reasons behind the rapid degradation of the river,� says Bhalla who has been working on various aspects of the Yamuna for the last seven years.

The artists also said that in India there hadn’t been a name for the kind of work they were doing until recently. That is, environmental art isn’t demarcated as something extraordinary.

While none of the projects are explicitly tied to World Water Day, they lend themselves to thinking through some of the issues raised by this year's theme. At the WWD website, there are event calendars and other links to inform people around the world about ways to get involved this year. And as art goes, the site has a beautiful slideshow of water-related photography from around the world. All of these projects and artistic statements are a powerful reminder that the well doesn't have to go dry before we recognize its worth.

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