Save it! About Water, Value and Art

There is nothing as soothing as simply looking at water. At the banks of the river Isar in Munich, at the shores of Lake Maggiore or at the Atlantic coast. You can just hang on to your thoughts and listen to the gentle sound of the waves or the calm flow of the river. Inevitably, the big questions of life will eventually surface.

Where do we come from? Where are we going to? What am I doing with my life, and why can't I walk on water?

The latter, at least, was made possible if only for a short time in 2016 by the artist duo Christo (†2020) and Jeanne-Claude (†2009). In the Floating Piers project, the recently deceased artist connected the city of Sulzano in northern Italy with the islands of Monte Isola and Isola di San Paolo in Lake Iseo. Visitors could literally walk across the water on  a walkway  made of 220,000 polyethylene cubes covered with  bright yellow fabric and, unlike  a common bridge, feel the movement of the water beneath  their feet.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16 Photo: Wolfgang Volz
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Floating Piers, lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16 Photo: Pixabay


Nora Vest, "Grenzenloses Wasser"
(Boundless Water)2018, Installation Kulturort
Gallery Weiertal, Winterthur, Switzerland
on the topic " Boundless

Many other artists have found both motivation and inspiration in the power of water. sculpture network member Nora Vest has long been fascinated by the element. She often spends time by the water watching its constant changes: "It is never the same, depending on the weather, light, time of day, season, reflection". The Weiertal pond l is a particularly inspiring place for the artist, which is why she has installed her work Grenzenloses Wasser (Boundless Water) at this very location. Photographs of the pond and other water bodies were woven together in a multi-layered image and then printed on mesh fabric that "flows" across the landing bridge, thus extending the pond beyond its boundaries. The water photographs used each tell their own story and thus invite the viewer to embark on a voyage of discovery. They incorporate  the place and alienate it at the same time.

Water can be peaceful, ponderous, relaxing as in Nora West's works, but it can also be wild, exciting and dangerous. It can challenge us and we can literally be up to our necks in it, much like this sculpture of  US President Trump. It was erected on occasion of the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowic in 2018 and gradually sank into the water to point out the importance of climate protection.

Herbert W. H.. Hundrich,
The ocean begins under your feet,
above: Light installation, sketch;
below: Bronce plaque, 15 x 90 cm, sketch

The  project The ocean begins under your feet by sculpture network member Herbert W.H. Hundrich  points towards that same goal. The concept was developed for the Architecture Biennale in Venice 2020 (postponed to 2021*) and is dedicated to the host city itself, which in today’s Europe is most directly affected by climate change, exploding tourism and the cruise industry. In three locations, the Plazzo Bembo, the entrance area of Palazzo Mora and the Giardini della Marinaressa, light installations will  project the work’s title “The ocean begins under your feet” making the artist's crucial  statement omnipresent in just these few words :

"My project meets the current situation of climate change; it is an appeal to the responsibility ofpolitics, architects, artists and to the people in general. A call for increased  mindfulness and respect for nature, especially  water, the life-sustaining and life-giving element.
Climate change does not distinguish people based on  skin colour, religion, ethnic heritage, rich or poor – it  forces people  to cooperate and demands contributions from each individual, so that  each life in this world becomes liveable ".

After the Venice Architecture Biennale, bronze plaques will  be issued to be put up in  public squares and gardens.

In the course of global warming, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource . Environmental pollution and privatisation make access to clean drinking water  more and more difficult or even impossible in many parts of the world . They turn water, an elementary good,  into a luxury item with  a value  equal to gold. The French artist Parse/Error has recognized this absurd development and translated it into a lucid visual language in his work “Value of Water”: ingots of water** shaped like typical gold bars. With his project, the artist looks into "a dystopian future, where water has replaced money. Clear and transparent water as we know it is now a thing of the past, and drinking water has become a real privilege in a world overwhelmed by pollution. Water is no longer a right, but a private good, marketed and subject to speculation. Water has become a luxury reserved for an elite, a safe haven just like gold."

Parse/Error - "Value of Water", 2018 – Transparent resin, silicone molds

sculpture network member Manfred Hellweger and his  partner Sandra Brugger too have found their own language to express the preciousness of water. The installation Hanzaflow was realized in 2018 in St. Anton am Arlberg and consists of 400 so-called Hanza, traditional hayracks formerly used for haymaking. The Hanza were painted in rainbow colours and placed immitating  the shape of a river running down  from the Arlberg mountain to the Verwall reservoir.

Sandra Brugger and Manfred Hellweger, Hanzaflow, 2018, Installation, painted Hanza

Although the Hanzaflow blends harmoniously into the mountainous landscape, the work’s colour gradient from light green to azure, dark blue, magenta, red, orange and  yellow nevertheless catches the eye. The fact that it “flows” right into the Verwall reservoir underscores the artist couple’s main  idea : the rainbow-coloured river is a symbol for the preciousness of water. In recent years , the region has been repeatedly affected by periods of drought. The Hanza itself  above all stands  for the appreciation of  farmers and their work.

What all the projects have in common, is that they leave the viewer pensive, raising more questions than they answer. One of them being how do we as a society value one of the most important resources we have on this planet: water.


*The project 2021 “The ocean begins under your feet”  located at  Plazzo Bembo and the entrance area of  Palazzo Mora is subsidised  by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.  
**actually made of  synthetic resin


Martina Fischer_0.jpg

Martina Fischer is an art historian and project manager at sculpture network. The idea for this article came to her - how could it be otherwise - by the water.



Title: Parse/Error - "Value of Water", 2018 – Transparent resin, silicone molds



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