I have been looking forward to this exhibition for quite some time. Especially considering it is an exhibition that opens discussions on climate change and the fragility of the environment, as well as commenting on our role and relationship to our surroundings. It could not have opened at a more poignant time, particularly in Australia where drought and fires have ravaged parts of the country. It was fascinating to see how artists have interacted with this vital element. Not only in a ‘traditional’ way, i.e. photographs and sculptures, but in a playful way as well. More on that later.
As soon as I heard about the exhibition, I wanted to buy a season pass so I could see it as many times as possible. Well, I wanted to walk over an Icelandic riverbed as many times as possible. In short, I am very glad I purchased the pass. The Icelandic riverbed was most definitely a highlight, but there are so many artworks I want to return to and see over the next few months. I might actually write a blog post in April when I see the exhibition for the final time and reflect on how my views/favourite sections have changed and why. Watch this space.
I’m going to focus on a few specific artworks, but there are some general comments and observations that I want to include.
- Use of space – the exhibition never felt crowded and although it was extremely busy it was not overwhelming.
- Excellent grouping of artworks – each work speaks to the grand theme of water but is also grouped into a sub-theme, such as ‘deep’ and ‘riverbed’. These themes flow together really well and challenge visitors to think of water in all its different forms and layers.
- Strategic artwork placement – one work in particular that comes to mind is the snowman. It is positioned in front of a large window overlooking the Brisbane River. This reminds visitors of what is outside (heat and humidity) and how out-of-place the snowman seems. This placement reinforces the aim of the work which I will discuss later.
- Use of colour – the exhibition makes great use of wall colour. Depending on where you start your visit, you can move from somewhere deep and dark to the surface where there is much more light. The colours on the wall support and reflect this movement.
I’m now going to delve into a few of the artworks you can see in ‘Water’ and how it is both a traditional and playful exhibition.
1. Riverbed by Olafur Eliasson
I was not at all prepared for the scale of this installation. When I read that an Icelandic riverbed was going to be in the exhibition, I thought a really small area with a few rocks and some water running through. As you can see from the photographs below, the riverbed actually takes up an entire room and is massive. This installation by Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist, reminds visitors that water is extremely precious. The fact we don’t know if the small stream of water is reducing in size or growing, speaks to the rapidly changing environmental conditions we are faced with everyday. It is also quite a harrowing reminder of drought as the small flow of water could stop at any time.
What is most incredible about this installation is the fact you can walk all over the riverbed and actually experience it all around you. As the interpretative label states, you do feel out of place. It is disorientating standing on an Icelandic riverbed inside a gallery in Brisbane. But, it is simultaneously so tranquil. It was (and might still be after a few more visits) my favourite section of the exhibition and what sparked my thoughts on water the most.
2. Snowman by Peter Fischli and David Weiss
This very out of context snowman in tropical Brisbane smiling at visitors making their way through the exhibition has to be my second favourite artwork in the exhibition. It is housed in an industrial freezer relying on electricity to keep it alive. If we can manipulate our environment by using technology and industry, then it shouldn’t seem so odd that a snowman can survive against all odds.
3. RE FORMATION (Noogoon/St Helena Island) by Megan Cope
This sculpture is one of continued presence of Indigenous Australians and adaptability. It is also one that speaks to an action – the hope of restoring reef systems across Quandamooka country. The cast-concrete oyster shells are arranged in a shell midden. These structures were created from discarded oyster shells and represent a healthy relationship between people and environment – nurturing and supportive. Colonisation destroyed the majority of these structures as they were burnt to make lime. This sculpture manages to combine the past with the present and the future very effectively.
4. The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories III by Julian Charrière
Just behind the Snowman is a large print depicting an iceberg. On top of the iceberg is a man with a blowtorch directing it at the ice. You can see there is a very direct link between the image and commentary on climate change. Specifically, a dramatic look at how cumulative impact can arise from individual action.
5. Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang
This is such a stunning sculptural installation that you will want to spend some time slowly walking through if you visit. Mainly because there are so many animals surrounding the water that you can identify. There is balance and harmony, but also some underlying tensions. As predators and prey all stand around drinking the same water, how long before something goes wrong.
I have only just scratched the surface of what’s on offer in the exhibition and the types of broader narratives present. As you can probably see by now, the exhibition is filled with interactive, playful installations that fully immerse the visitor. You become an active part of the exhibition not just a passive visitor reading labels. This is where I think the exhibition has really succeeded. You are constantly reminded that we need to be active not passive when managing this vital element and the environment.
I strongly recommend visiting the exhibition and experiencing this all for yourself. ‘Water’ is on at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane until 26 April 2020. GOMA is open daily (excluding Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Good Friday) from 10am to 5pm. Tickets for the exhibition can be purchased here.
Please note that while the galleries are accessible, Riverbed and The Fact of Matter are two installations that are not. For The Fact of Matter, there are also height restrictions and it is not recommended for visitors with any heart conditions or current injuries.