RETHINKING WATER 13 PERTINENT PROJECTS

Power games // Three characters from three different eras douse for water in South African artist Mikhael Subotzky’s new WYE. The three-channel video attempts to map the terrain of the ‘ white male psyche’ by using blind faith in the pseudoscientific water-finding tool to evoke colonial mind-sets. The search for water also elicits the patriarchy’s slippery quest for a new identity.

Power Games
The Coke Side of Life // It takes three litres of clean drinking water to produce one litre of Coca-Cola, while, sadly and absurdly, in some parts of the world people who don't have access to clean drinking water can only satisfy their thirst with this sugary brown liquid. The Real Thing is a critical design installation by Helmut Smits and Martien Würdemann that distils Coca-Cola back into clean drinking water.

What’s the colour of water? // For many Ghanaians, the yellow plastic jerrycan is synonymous with water, which is what artist Jeremiah Quarshie explores in his work, Yellow is the Colour of Water. Ordinary Ghanaian citizens, from beauty queens and gym bunnies to labourers and businesswomen, are painted in a hyper realistic style lounging on throne-like assemblages of those canisters, showing how elitism is levelled by infrastructural needs.

The Coke side of life
Blue ice // “What should be pristine white is littered with blue”, says Timo Lieber, referring to the increasing number of bright blue lakes appearing in the Arctic. The London-based aerial and landscape photographer teamed up with the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, to dangle from a helicopter above the 9-12 million km² sheet of ice that covers the North Pole. Intentionally abstract in order to capture every exquisite detail, Lieber says: “They’re beautiful, but what you’re looking at is climate change at its worst.”

Liquefying the fog // Lima is the second driest capital in the world, but an organisation comprised of neighbours in this coastal region is tackling the problem using a collaborative, hands-on approach. Called Los Sin Agua, Spanish for Those Without Water, the group is building fog-catchers that transform moisture from the air into clean water for drinking and for greening their gardens. The simple devices are built of fine nylon mesh nets stretched over two poles, making good use of the early morning mist.

What’s the colour of water?
Bathing bliss
Paper pal // Paper Water Bottle was born as an alternative to the wasteful plastic-water-bottle industry, where globally 80 billion plastic bottles are produced every year, 80 per cent of which end up in the oceans and landfill sites and take some 800 years to biodegrade. Its moulded fibre shell is crafted from a combination of plant-based fibres including bagasse, bulrush, wheat straw, and bamboo, with a micro-thin PLA (polylactic acid) layer inside to make it waterproof. The compostable container also offers the convenience of production, distribution, sale, and use.

Oceanic objects // Four years after unveiling its inspiring Sea Chair project in which plastic debris collected from the ocean was recycled into speckled stools, British-Japanese Studio Swine has found a new, gleaming use for plastic pollution. The radical design practice's new Gyrecraft project is now diverting plastic waste into a collection of luxury objects. This has taken the duo on a journey of 1000 nautical miles, collecting waste from the Azores across to the Canaries through the North Atlantic Ocean. The objects are skilfully crafted from a combination of precious elements like brass, gold plated steel, and rope, and contrasted with reclaimed hardwood. Other components include recycled plastic 'gems' and 'corals' created on board using a sun-powered Solar Extruder that melts and extrudes plastic.

Slippery when wet // Fatbergs are congealed lumps of oil-based domestic waste that do not dissolve or break down in sewers. Some designers have suggested these as sources of biofuel, but Mike Thompson and Arne Hendriks are instead building an island off the coast of Amsterdam. This critical design project intends to draw attention to how fat is a vital energy reserve that has been stigmatised and thus lost its purpose as a material in the contemporary world.

Clean cycle // Waterbike is an interactive, floating kinetic sculpture by Brazilian artist and researcher Ivan Henriques. The hybrid machine cleans polluted water via pedal-power and was developed during an artist residency programme at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam last year, along with the students. Its biomechanical body is crafted from an assemblage of existing mechanisms and hacked objects; it contains an ecosystem for growing bacteria that feed from the organic materials contained in water, the main cause of pollution. The cyclist’s kinetic energy pumps and cleans the water inside transparent tubes at the side of the seat.

Aquatic architecture // “More than two billion gallons of water circulate every day beneath New York City”, according to Spanish architect Andrés Jaque. Aiming to make this hidden water infrastructure that runs underfoot more visible, he created Cosmo, a water-purifying device that also makes a poetic comment on the scarcity of clean water. The sculptural installation consists of a web of entangled plastic tubes filled with water and green organisms, along with dangling greenery. It can purify up to 3,000 gallons of water (11,350 litres) in three days by eliminating suspended particles and nitrates, balancing PH levels, and increasing the amount of oxygen.

North Dakota Protests // “How can you buy or sell the sky, or the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can they be sold? Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shiny pine needle, every sandy shore, every misty area in the dark woods, and every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.” This is the reply issued in 1854 by Native American Duwamish Chief Sealth to the United States Government’s offer to buy two million acres of Indian land in the Northwest.

Awesome aerial // A 25-metre-long cantilevered pool with a reinforced glass bottom now lends bathers dramatic views of the breath-taking Alpine region north of Italy. The heated sky pool is part of Italian architecture firm noa’s renovation of Hotel Hubertus, a wellness boutique hotel at an altitude of 1,350 metres, nestled into the majestic South Tyrolean Dolomites. New features include extra rooms, a restaurant with a wine cellar, terraces, and a fitness and relaxation room to enjoy after a day of trekking or skiing.

Bathing bliss // Ever since she was a child, design curator and editor Jane Withers has had an affinity for water. We talked to her about her recent exhibition Soak Steam Dream, which captured the emerging revival of the public bathing culture.

DAMN°: What was Soak Steam Dream about?

Jane Withers: In the past few years, a number of really interesting bathhouse projects, which are more about the community and social aspects, have appeared. These evoke the culture and rituals of historic bathhouses. We tend to have transmuted the bathing culture into the spa, which is very often exclusive and one-on-one, and we are now seeing the rediscovery of the social and cultural dimension of bathing that has gone missing. Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals did a lot to reignite interest. In Helsinki, for instance, the first public saunas in half-a-century have been built over the last couple of years. People are interested in this because it’s a social space with such a different ambience and tempo and way of relating to other people.

DAMN°: Are we revaluing water, treating it as a luxury?

JW: I don’t know if we’re treating it as a luxury, but these projects do make us much more aware of water, and some of the bathhouse typology has come from dry climates. It’s about revaluing water; the closer you connect to it, the more you think about it and use it responsibly. Water is not just this industrial clean stuff that comes out of the tap that we take for granted.

DAMN°: If these bathhouses are not exclusive, but rather, socially inclusive spaces, have they been used in lower income areas or as urban acupuncture?

JW: Yes, the temporary Barking Bathhouse in one of London’s poorest boroughs was a community project run and visited by locals during the Olympics. They developed an entire ethos, with maxims like high experience low cost, the necessity for bathers to be able to afford it for regular use, mass relaxation, and a warning it is a communal experience. Similarly, German architects Raumlabor’s Gothenburg sauna was built with and for the community as the first project in the disused docks that is eventually to be a park, so it’s a harbinger of change. H3T architekti in the Czech Republic do guerrilla projects with pop-up bathhouses open to whoever brings firewood.

DAMN°: What are the other design trends around water?

JW: There’s the on-going interest in the water footprint of food and products, which I have explored in the Wonderwater Cafe. I’ve also observed the return to swimming in city rivers in my Urban Plunge project. Most of our cities have been built next to rivers, but we have since polluted them. These bodies of water are sometimes the biggest public spaces we have.

This article appeared in DAM61. Order your personal copy.
Oceanic objects
Blue ice
Slippery when wet
Clean cycle
Awesome aerial
Liquefying the fog
North Dakota Protests
Aquatic Architecture
Papel Pal