Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Art for Water: At the Mill

Have just spent three days at the Cheshire Mill studio space where 13,699 is being constructed, rehanging lines of bottle caps. Originally, I had hoped that the bottle caps on monofilament could be hung on a metal grid that would suspend from the ceiling. However, the exhibition venue for the fall required a free-standing frame. I had gotten an estimate from a metal fabricator to make the frame of my dreams, (sleek, anodized white . . .) but the price was way out of my range at $3000. So, galvanized steel pipe with fence fittings at the corners that I bought from FarmTek (a very cool catalog) will have to do. This is my first three-dimensional project, so thinking in volume and depth is more challenging than I had imagined. The frame that I ordered was ten feet high and ten feet square and I intended to put a twelve by twelve foot grid on the top. Once that was erected, however, I realized the scale was way off and it was just too big. So, with the help of some friends who happen to be sculptors, Kim and Scott Cunningham, my husband and I took the frame apart and Scott and Noel cut down the pipes with a chop saw and then we put the frame all together again. Jeremy from Bevara suggested grid wall, which is typically used in retail shops, for the top grid and I found some at two by five foot rectangles. Noel and I assembled them and secured them with hose clamps. The grids hang over the frame by about one foot all the way around.

Last August Noel and I had suspended some metal shelving from the ceiling with chains, so there were about 250 lines hanging that had to be taken down when I got the steel frame. Each line had to be wrapped around a scrap of foam core or hung from poles on the studio walls. I had been collecting more strung lines from my work with students. Over the past three days I hung or rehung about 350 lines, trying to figure out how to space them. Currently there are more than 7,000 bottle caps hanging and only about 25% of the grid is filled. My math skills are proving to be less impressive than I feared because according to my earlier calculations, 7,000 bottle caps should have taken up about 50% of the space. Fearing a shortage yesterday I counted how many caps I have waiting to be drilled and strung and I think I have plenty to complete the project. Although, the installation title refers to how many people die every day from lack of access to clean water, the actual number of bottle caps in the installation will exceed 13,699.

With painting and print making I'm accustomed to a more experimental approach. At the outset of a new body of work, I have an idea of what I want to make, and then work towards that general direction. Along the way there are always happy accidents, especially in print making, and the work evolves as a result. With this installation project I've had to try to think it all the way through on paper and even though I sought out the advice of architect friend, Rick Monahon, the way it looks and they way I thought it would look are different. This was especially shocking with the original ten foot frame. There has been a happy accident, however, and that is that the bottle caps look like a heavy rain falling or the bubbles from a scuba tank or in a water cooler. In spite of being plastic trash, they are beautiful.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Art for Water

13,699 will be exhibited at the Sharon Arts Center (www.sharonarts.org) in Peterborough, NH from July 3 through August 2 along with photographs by Mary Lang (www.marylang.com). Yesterday I approached some businesses and organizations in the town to talk about the possibility of creating a concerted effort to raise awareness of the world water crisis during the month the installation is being exhibited. The response was positive. I intend to talk to more people in the town and hope that if you come to Peterborough in the month of July, you won't be able to turn around without bumbing into some reminder that water is precious.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Art for Water

Good news. 13,699 has been accepted for sponsorship by the non-profit artist organization, Fractured Atlas (www.fracturedatlas.org), which means that donations from individuals and corporations are now tax deductible. And, Colleen Clark, video artist, has agreed to collaborate by documenting the progression of this installation and public art project.

I'm working on approval from the NH State House to display a part of the installation inside the building during the week of March 23 in honor of World Water Day. And I'll be at New England College in Henniker, NH for Earth Day working with students from the Environmental Action Club and the Art Department on the production of 13,699.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art for Water

Several years ago when I read that five million people die every year from water-related diseases, I wondered why there was no alarm sounding. While the figure haunted me, it felt impossible to imagine, so I got my calculator and figured out how many people die every day. It was then I realized I had to translate this visually. The installation, 13,699, is being created to raise awareness of the number of people who die every day from water-related diseases because they do not have access to clean water. To symbolize these deaths, one clear plastic water bottle cap is used to represent each person. The object of this installation is to present the opportunity to experience physically the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis statistic.

The caps have been collected from the Keene, NH recycling center. Tens of thousands of clear plastic water bottle caps are strung on monofilament and hung from a 10´ x 10´ metal grid.
An 8´ x 8´ x 8´ steel frame supports the grid and has one point of access and exit. There is an open five foot circle in the middle. The clear plastic circular caps echo the open circular space within the square. The lines, strung with bottle caps, are hung from the metal grid at staggered three inch increments in a circular configuration around and above the open center circle.
The choice of using plastic bottle caps calls attention to other related environmental issues surrounding bottled water, such as privatization, depletion of aquifers, the environmental impact of plastic waste, the use of fossil fuels in making plastic, the carbon footprint of shipping bottled water, and the leaching of plastic into our water sources. Purchasing bottled water turns a basic human right into a commodity, affecting access for people in developing countries, as well as here in the United States.

Primarily a print maker and painter, my work, which is non-representational, has always been informed by the landscape. As my awareness of global water issues grew, I made the decision to make water the theme of all of my work. In 2007 I realized that my serene fine art could not
communicate all I wanted to say about these important issues and decided to design an installation that illustrated disturbing statistics with the same meditative qualities as my two-dimensional work. My intention is to engender an appreciation for and stewardship of one of our most precious natural resources – water, as well as inspire advocacy for the disenfranchised who are trying to live without basic needs.

Making it Public
The production of 13,699 is as important as the installation itself. Awareness of the global water crisis and the degree of suffering caused by lack of clean water is limited. I have worked with high school students in Keene, Peterborough, and Concord on the production of 13,699 and have engaged the public at GreenFest, an environmental festival, at Government Center in Boston in September, 2008 where bottle caps were strung by many participants. Graduate students at Antioch New England strung bottle caps after listening to my presentation at their semi-annual student coffee house in November, 2008. In July, the completed project will be installed at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, NH and it will be part of the exhibit, Down Stream, at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College in September. Students at the Salem Academy Charter School in Massachusetts are drilling and stringing bottle caps as a senior service project. Working on this project in a group gives rise to conversation and debate about what we as individuals can do to change our personal water use habits. Using art to raise awareness exposes students to the option of creative expression as a path to social change. Oftentimes taken for granted – the experience of working on this installation deepens understanding of water’s essential nature.

For more information,
please call Christine Destrempes at 603.827.3744
or email at cdestrempes@myfairpoint.net

13,699 is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of 13,699 may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and
are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.