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.

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