On April 16, Intermedia Arts opened For the Water, an exhibit curated by local artist Camille J. Gage. For the Water showcases three water-inspired projects in the Intermedia Arts Gallery: Camille Gage’s I AM WATER, Sharon Day’s 2014 Ohio River Water (Nibi) Walk, and Ananya Chatterjea’s Mohona’s Estuaries of Desire. The exhibit features photographs, dances, and documentary journeys about the water, as well as an interactive art form to involve people’s participation and awareness for our water. According to Intermedia Arts, the exhibit also includes “the first-ever public display of Sister River, a collection of works created by fabric artists from around the world in honor of the 2013 Mississippi River Walk.”
For the Water presents a various of art forms, including a map of the Ohio River, quilts for meditation, paintings, the water wishes and dance and so on, to draw public’s attention to pollution of our rivers and waste of the finite amount of fresh water we have in our community. According to Gage, being so disconnected from the natural world makes us ignore the importance of the water, not only as it exists as an essential element in our lives, but also we have lost spiritual experiences it inspires.
At the exhibit opening, Gage hosted a series of performances and readings from local and national artists including Heid Erdrich, Lee Taylor, and Kirk Washington. Sharon Day, who leads the River Walk project, also shared a speech about her experiences with the walk, and her plan to begin another walk along the Ohio River on Earth Day, April 22.
On opening night, many people started their own art experience at the gallery. People who come to the gallery throughout the exhibit can draw about water and write their water wishes.
At the end of the dancing piece Estuaries of Desire by Ananya Dance Theater at Intermedia Arts, the group of dancers performed the Moon Dance while singing “dance with us, grab your friends, come together, become the water, let it go…” Many in the audience gradually went down to the stage and joined the dance.
The Intermedia Arts exhibit highlights the already-existing community of artists, environmental activists and people who have noticed this issue and are willing to take personal actions on to advocate the public’s care for water and what water means on a personal, public, legal and spiritual level. As Gage said, it’s deep and it takes time to feel our spiritual connection with water. Yet, if we start to notice and participate, we are taking one step further.
Question and answer with Camille Gage:
When did you start this project and how did it start?
About two years ago, I got invited to a conference at Notre Dame University on water. It was 75 invited people, artists and indigenous people, lawyers. People were looking at legal, environmental and spiritual aspects of what’s happening to our water. There is where I met some of the Ojibwe people that I continue to stay and keep in touch with. I knew then that I wanted to do a project. There was a man who spoke, his name is Ron Plein (he is, they call the first nations man in Canada). He talked about how he became an activist and he looked at the 75 people sitting there and he said, “All of you, have been all chosen, to expand this work.” Well, I think he is right. So I decided I wanted to do a long-term project that has community engagement, interactive. I spent some time thinking about what shape it would take. And I decided to do these small painted pieces where people can write about the wish to the water on one side and paint it on the other. And you bring them together to show a visual metaphor of the power and beauty that we have when we work together.
How do you see your role as an artist, and an environmental activist?
There are artists that are doing what I call personal studio work. They are maybe doing beautiful paintings and sculptures. And there is a group of artists who are interested in using art, art practices to draw topical issues. It’s just a personal choice. For me, I really believe that art is a great way to start conversations, to be a catalyst for people to open their mind a little, to think about something they never thought about before, and perhaps, even further to take or get involved in personal action.
If we talk about the environmental movement, it’s been happening for a long time. It’s been lots of successes and challenges. I just think it’s important for me, personally to apply the time and energy that I put towards environmental causes. Also my belief now, my thinking involved last year, what I end up saying, is that I come to realize that this is really a spiritual journey. People need to begin to embark on. That is, we have been so disconnected from the natural world, living in modernity. Water is a commodity now and rather is seen, as something that not only supports our life, but is a part of our life. You know, almost like a relation, brother and sister. We are part of this living system and we need to reconnect. That is more of a spiritual journey than just pure activism. So trying to get people to think in a new way about their relationship to earth. That’s what I come to learn after doing this couple of years.
There are three projects in For the Water. Can you talk about them?
Yeah, there are three. There are Water Walks by Sharon Day. There are photographs, maps and the quilts made from last year’s walk at Mississippi river. Another piece is on the video monitor, which is Mohona: Estuaries of Desire by Annanya Dance Theatre. That’s a fully dance piece investigating our relationship with water.
I think the common thread is that all really are very interested in the spiritual aspect of our relationship with the nature and how do we take something that is fundamentally broken. It’s very deep work. So that’s the connection thread of the pieces that I chose in this exhibition.
Can you talk about your working process?
It’s really lots of thinking and research. This particular instance, I want to create something that is able to grow. This will be a lot bigger than the I AM WATER piece. After this, because so many people have contributed here in Intermedia, their panels, the whole piece so I can box them in couple of small boxes. And it’s very lightweight, and I could ship it to places. If schools want to participate, I could ship the panels there.
So I was thinking if you really want this to be interactive, to be portable, and easy to move and cheap to ship, like there are many programmatic decisions you have to make.
What would you suggest for public audience if they come here and see your project?
Well, I suggest a few things. One is that they do take time to sit down, and close their eyes for a minute, and think of their favorite water, place, and just quiet their mind a bit, you know, make a ripple, write a water wish on one side and paint on the other side. I will be sewing them all together when it comes down, editing this piece so it will grow quite a lot. So take the time to participate.
And another thing is really taking some time to check the information about Ohio water walk (there is a computer showing water walk in the exhibit), learn more about that. I will be updating the map of Ohio River on the board wall. As the walkers go down the river, it will be 975 miles over 35 days. I will do some notations about their experiences. They don’t know what’s gonna happen and they just start walking. They have hosts in every city that where they stay, and they will be meeting all kinds of people. It’s really an adventure, the walk. So I really encourage people to follow that. Again, it starts on Earth Day (Apr 22). You can go to the website (nibiwalk.com). On their website, they carry a GPS tracker, so you can see where they are at as they move down the river. Read the blogs; see the pictures, journey with them through the Internet!