Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Going Public

May 26, 2015 Joint Lab by Susan Weinberg

Today seemed especially suited for the Artists' Lab given our topic of water.  We sloshed our way through torrents of rain to gather for Sharon Zweigbaum's inside perspective on public art.  Sharon is a long-time art aficianado with a MA in Art History and Museum Studies.  She has served as an arts administrator, a writer, a long-time Walker docent and runs tours of topics related to public art for her business Artvantage.

Sharon began her presentation by asking what we knew of early public art in Minneapolis.  We concluded that much of it was commemorative art honoring a specific person.  One non-person specific piece that has been around since 1904 is the Father of Waters in city hall.  Originally created for New Orleans at the other end of the river, it was deemed too expensive and instead made its way further up the Mississippi to Minneapolis.  It contains many symbols of the river and was created by Larkin Mead.

It was not until the 1980s that the Minneapolis Arts Commission was created and focused upon art in public places, bringing a more contemporary perspective to public art.  They commissioned over 50 artworks.

Sharon shared a bit of history with us emphasizing how many of the names within Minnesota relate to water.  Mississippi is an Indian word misi-ziibi meaning Great River.  It is 2320 miles long from the headwaters to the mouth and the 4th largest river in the world.  Minnesota means sky tinted water, Minnetonka- the big water, Mendota - meeting of the rivers and Minneapolis means city of lakes.  There are 22 lakes and wetlands within Minneapolis alone and over 12,000 in the state of Minnesota.

St. Anthony Falls is the only true falls on the Mississippi River.  Father Hennepin was the first European to see and write about the falls. He had been captured by Indians and lived with them for two years.  During that time he first saw the falls, nearly 60 feet high, in the area that is now Minneapolis.  In their travels they encountered French explorer Daniel Graysolon Du Luht ( the source of the name for Duluth, MN) who persuaded the Indians to release Hennepin. There is a statue of Hennepin in front of the Basilica today.

Native groups had many words for the falls some of which translated to curling water, falling water, whirlpool and severed rock. The power of the falls was later instrumental in Minneapolis becoming the milling capital of the world in the 1880s.

Sharon then took us on a visual tour of many of the public art sites in Minneapolis beginning with  the Mill Ruins Park and the Gold Medal Park that overlook the Stone Arch Bridge.   She noted that the Stone Arch Bridge was built by James J Hill in 1883. 

There are a number of public artworks in the city and many of them relate to water.  Some of the ones that Sharon highlighted can be found on MPR Soundpoint where you can dial a number and hear the artist speak.  The Tilted Bowl Fountain by Seitu Jones forces one to hold the bowl like a kind of ritual or homage. The piece is designed to recall a shell of a mussel which is endangered as well as water pouring out of the bowl. 

Another sculpture Enjoyment of Nature is by Kinji Akagawa and located across the street from the downtown library.  The work looks at the metaphor of how the city grows similar to the circle that forms when a stone is thrown into water.  The piece was taken down at one point due to damage from skateboarders, but is now back in place.

Some of the challenges to public art in addition to skateboards include new construction, vandalism and barriers that have been created since 9-11.

Many of the public artworks can be found on a map put out by the Art in Public Places program in 2002.  While some pieces may have been retired and new ones added, the map highlights a number of the pieces that Sharon addressed.  Those include George Morrison's piece on Nicollet Mall called
Tableau Native American Mosaic.  Morrison focused much of his work on Lake Superior so a connection to water is found in much of his design.

In 1992 Seitu Jones and Tacoumba-Aiken together with poet Soyini Guyton created Shadows of Spirit.  These  bronze shadows were of minority members who made significant contributions to the community, but were not adequately recognized.

Also included were the frescos of St. Thomas by Mark Balma, the second largest ceiling fresco in the US. The frescos include the theme of the Mississippi River representing the flow of life.

A number of the pieces can be found on-line.  Among those are  manhole covers by Kate Burke that reflect themes related to Minnesota. 

More recent works were created when the central library was developed. The terrazzo floor by Lita Albequerque in the library commons is based on what happens when one skips a stone across a body of water. 

A cast glass sculpture by Howard Ben Tre can be found by Target Corporate Headquarters on Nicollet Mall.

A survey of public art related to water would not be complete without a trip to the Walker where we find Frank Gehry's giant fish perched over a pond.  This fifty-two foot tall glass sculpture was created for the 1986 Gehry retrospective and then taken apart scale by scale until it was reassembled.   Gehry was originally Frank Goldberg and recalled the fish swimming in the bathtub prior to their demise to make gefilte fish.  Fish are a motif that he often uses in his work.

Also at the Walker one will find the Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Spoonbridge and Cherry.  The spoon and cherry are in a pond and serve as a fountain.  His wife Coosje felt that the spoon would be too dull in the winter and added the cherry for color.

There are many more pieces than can be covered adequately.  I invite you to reference a more recent map  put out by Forecast to find additional works.

We concluded our lab with some hands-on work on the river.  On a long sheet of paper we drew a river and then using watercolor and drawing pens added elements to it, flowers and fauna and birds and ducks and of course public art!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meeting at the Well: Israeli Artists Examine Water

Lab 2.0 5/19/2015 by Susan WeinbergOur lab session today explored our theme of water as it relates to Israel and the ways in which Israeli art deals with this theme that is so central to Israeli life.

Phil Rosenbloom and Suzanne Fenton began the session with a quick view of artworks they had gathered by Israeli artists that relate to water. As they showed the image briefly we were to write one word that came to mind. That was our introduction to a variety of work to which we returned later in the session.

We then surveyed some of the leading artists who deal with themes of water. One of the most fascinating has to be Sigalit Landau. She views her work as a bridge maker and uses not only water as a medium, but salt, a central image of the Dead Sea. We viewed several videos of her work.

Salted Lake uses shoes as metaphor, shoes constructed of salt from the Dead Sea. These shoes are then placed on a frozen lake in Gdansk, Poland and through time-lapse photography she captures them as they melt and "drown" in the water. The sounds of the port change to a cold whistling wind as day turns to night and the shoes slowly sink. It reminded several of us of the Budapest memorial of shoes along the Danube.

Another work by Landau is titled Dead See and presents an aerial view of a raft of watermelons floating on the Dead Sea as they slowly unwind. In the midst is the naked body of the artist as she reaches to several watermelons that are sliced open, exposed as she is to the stinging salt.

In Mermaids she presents a video of three nude women on the border between Gaza and Israel scratching the sand as they are pulled back into the water. Slowly their woman-made created border disappears.

Other work that we viewed included Yaacov Agam's Fire and Water Fountain at Dizengoff Square and the Dale Chihuly sculpture of Fire and Water at the Aish HaTorah World Center at the Western Wall.

We examined water issues in Israel and the resolve to innovate to address the perennial shortage. The Sea of Galilee accounts for 30% of drinking waters supplemented by aquifers, reservoirs, groundwater and desalination plants. Groundwater comes from two main aquifers, the Coastal aquifer and the Mountain aquifer. Both lie under the Palestinian territory, in Gaza and the West Bank respectively. More than half of Israel's total natural water originates outside of its borders in Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.

Alexander Kushnir, Head of the Water Authority spoke of the accomplishment that 80% of purified sewage goes back to agricultural use, far in excess of the 18% of Spain, the next most successful. Despite many successful innovations, Israel is still challenged when rainfall declines and desalination has become the focus, albeit a controversial one. Green organizations are concerned that more saline will be pumped back into the sea altering its composition.

We shifted our attention to how the well and climate has shaped Biblical history. Wells are a frequent image within the Bible. Hagar in the wilderness with her son Ishmael runs out of water and await death when God opens her eyes to a well before her (Genesis 21:19).

Joseph is thrown down a well by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37:12-36) and is ultimately rescued and goes on to become viceroy of Egypt.

Often the well is the place where the patriarchs met the matriarchs, happy hour at the watering hole. Rebekah and Isaac meet at the well (Genesis 24: 11-20) as do Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:2-10).

The concept of the well is celebrated through ritual. At Sukkot there is a water ritual known as the Rejoicing at the Place of the Water Drawing. The celebration, and it is truly a celebration with music, dance and juggling, is based on Isaiah's promise, " With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3)

We returned to the images that we viewed at the beginning and focused upon work by Avital Geva in the Greenhouse Project. His work with school-age children, both Jewish and Arab, is focused on building coexistence projects. They study recycling water combining science and art installations. We also viewed a video of Spencer Tunick's Nude Dead Sea shoot, designed to focus upon the theme of water in Israel. The video gave the sense of a social gathering as participants gradually grew comfortable with this massive skinny dip in the Dead Sea.

As we shared our one word describing each piece, we found that we filtered our reaction through our own experience, sometimes with widely diverging responses, other times quite similar.

We concluded our session with a photo shoot of sorts. Various vessels were provided containing water and we were invited to photograph them and send the photos to Phil who will take the images and compose them into a larger collage-like image of an oasis. Soon we were manipulating the water, pouring, spilling, splashing into images of fluidity.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Mayim, Mayim

May 8, 2015 by Susan Weinberg
Our Artists' Lab retreat began with a gathering at the All My Relations Gallery. We were fortunate to catch the show shortly before it came down as it tied closely to our topic of water. The show The Art of Indigenous Resistance: Inspiring the Protection of Mother Earth brought together work by twenty artists that examined the power of activism through art.

Graci Horne, the new director and curator of the gallery, talked of the Native American tradition of caring for Grandmother Earth. In this tradition water is very sacred. She recalled that when she was growing up she was told that some day there would be wars over water. She noted that where her tribe is located is the second largest aquifer in the US and there is fighting between those who want to drill. The drilling company seeks water rights while their opponents allege that drilling is likely to contaminate the water, the source of drinking water for the nearby cities. The focus of Native Americans is to unify people and remind them of their responsibility for the earth.

Camille Gage then spoke about her project I Am Water, an interactive public artwork that challenges people to consider their relationship to our planet's fresh water. Camille noted that 80-90% of marine pollution is plastic. Plastic beverage holders take 400 years to disintegrate.

Camille spoke to a number of threats to our water supply. Monsanto's Roundup, the number 1 selling weed killer was recently reported by the World Health Organization as a "probable carcinogen".

She spoke about the commodification of water and shared a quote from Nestle's Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe in which he notes "water is the most valuable food stuff on the planet" as if it were made in a factory. She noted that it takes 1.5 gallons of water to make the plastic that holds the water. Nestle's benefits from this commodification of water, making $7B annually on global water sales.

More than two thirds of the Bakken oil fields production is shipped through Minnesota, over 23 million gallons daily. This highly flammable shipment has already caused serious explosions. 

Mining is declining on the Range and attention has begun to shift to creation of new jobs when mines are capped. Mining versus environmental protection remains a volatile subject. Camille called for reframing the discussion to have a dialogue that respects the historic contribution of miners even as we look at what it will be in the future.

She shared a number of artworks that deal with water including Bodies on Ice, Basin, the Overpass Light Brigade and Ananya Dance Theater. Camille also shared her experience as a water walker. A water walker walks a body of water and each step is a prayer. They carry a copper vessel of water and in presence and prayer make their statement.
We also have an opportunity to add our prayers for the water. Camille is doing a community art project that invites people to imagine a body of water they feel close to, write a prayer or wish for the water and paint an image on the other side. She is collecting these wishes/prayers in an installation that continues to grow.

We concluded our visit with an impromptu dance to the song Mayim Mayim. The words mean "With joy shall you draw water from the wells of deliverance". And one last group photo.
Fridley Softening Plant Wall Map
After savoring the renowned corn pancakes at Maria's Cafe, several of us traveled on to the second part of our retreat, a visit to the City of Minneapolis Public Water Works. A special thanks to Kris Prince who recommended this visit which proved to be a fascinating glimpse at the process behind the tap.

The buildings were actually spread across a campus that had been constructed over many years. The river ran alongside the buildings, a location that was of course critical to the function they performed.
In the lobby of the Fridley Softening Plant we met George, the Water Quality Plant Manager who took us on a tour of the facilities. A map was on the walls of the process and the locations where each process occurred. We were to learn that the color coding was significant with dark green representing untreated river water, light green- softened water, brown- the sludge that is taken out and blue-the drinkable water. We later were to learn that even some of the machines were color coded in a similar fashion.

George advised us that the plant serves 500K people and that 50M gallons a day were treated although capacity is 140M. Water usage has in fact fallen as people have begun to manage it more effectively.

Grates in Station 5 with River Below
River outside Station 5
The water goes through several processes to soften, filter and purify it. He noted that around 1910 people started dying from typhoid because of the water and they began to chlorinate it to purify it. Typhoid deaths fell to zero. The filters are .02microns and don't allow e-coli to get through. A human hair by contrast is about 100 microns. Two thirds of the water goes through Fridley with the balance going through Columbia Heights. There are built in redundancies so they are always pumping.

Station 5-sludge goes into green containers
We walked over to Station 5 where the river ran next to the building. George pointed out a sluice gate from 1920. The river water flows in below and was visible in the grates beneath our feet. It then goes through filters and the sludge is captured within green containers. Sludge is sold to farmers to put on their fields.
Pumping Room

After a visit to the Pumping Coordination Center we entered the Pumping Room. Here the green pumps represent river water going to the softening plant. The blue pumps represent clean water.
We returned to the Softening Plant and stepped into the basement. There giant pipes snaked across the building which had actually been constructed around the pipes.

Lime slakers
Minneapolis draws its water from the Mississippi River so has no water shortage. Water comes out of the river and runs back into it. Surrounding suburbs rely on groundwater which flows back into the river. Thus they are more challenged by potential water shortages. The MPCA has proposed that suburbs contract with the city or build their own plant to bring in river water.

Within the softening station we stopped by the area in which this occurs, the lime slakers. The room was dusted in white from the lime which plays an important role. Lime is added to soften the water. It then precipitates out of the water bringing an equivalent amount of calcium with it. George showed us three containers, one with lime, one with alum and one with carbon. The lime removes the hardness, the aluminum sulfate removes what the lime doesn't and the carbon removes taste and odor. In a nearby room, we were shown the computer station where the monitoring occurs. Although much of the equipment dates to earlier times, the computer technology allows them to work with a more minimal staff.

Our final stop was the precipitators. Here hardness materials settle to the bottom and are pumped out. The softened water overflows to collector flumes. Again the buildings were constructed around the giant precipitators. Skylights reflected in the water creating a distorted sense of space.

By the conclusion of our visit we had a much more visceral sense of the process behind the tap, a process that we have often been isolated from in our daily life.