“Water Wuz Here” was a process-based installation that visualized the momentary presence of water in the urban landscape. The exhibit was featured in an art show entitled “Grow Op: Exploring landscape and place” at The Gladstone Hotel in late April 2014.
Each morning of the four-day exhibition, the concrete sidewalk of an outdoor plaza adjacent to the hotel was sprayed with water and left to dry. As the moisture evaporated, hand-drawn chalk outlines traced the edges between wet and dry until the entire surface was covered in a myriad of fine lines. The lines were drawn at gradual intervals, usually minutes apart, and their configuration was dependant on a number of varying factors such as temperature, wind, sunlight, topography, humidity and other physical objects. These contours of moisture were intended to reveal and memorialize the process of evaporation and allow the viewer to consider this perpetual but nearly imperceptible process.
Part art and part experiment, the results varied greatly from day to day. Warm and sunny, the process of evaporation occurred rapidly on the first and fourth days, and the chalk lines were long and fluid. The second day was overcast and windy, and the line segments were shorter, more erratic and occurred quickly. Following an evening rainstorm, the third day was humid and it took two hours to complete an area that had taken only 20 minutes the previous day! An area of approximately 20 square metres was drawn upon each day, in segments adjacent to each other. Blackboard chalk was selected for its precision and durability and the colors were changed gradually to indicate a measurement of time. Accompanying the outdoor “performances” was a display inside the art gallery, featuring a 3 metre long illustration of the chalk lines on paper as well as a continuously looping slideshow showing a sample of the chalk progression in detail.
With over 900 visitors to the exhibition, many people had similar reactions to the installation. Most thought the display depicted changes in grade on the sidewalk, or similarly, that this process would be a good way to teach kids about contour mapping. Interestingly, topography was one of the least influential factors to affect evaporation in this situation – likely because of the relatively low volume of water dispensed. The reaction of people passing by the outdoor display was directly dependant on the weather; on sunny days, people stopped to chat about the demonstration and on cloudy days the attention was minimal.
“Grow Op: Exploring Landscape and Place” provided a rare opportunity to explore process as well as product. As the Gladstone Hotel’s annual alternative landscape and urban design event, the exhibit explored themes of water, memory, natural process, public space and everyday materiality through video, sound, performance and participatory experiences. This installation focused on subtle hydrological processes at work within an environment that is continually pressured by increased storm intensities, decreased permeability and related stormwater management issues. Like a graffiti tag or scrawl etched into concrete, “Water Wuz Here” was a slow motion and visual revelation of water’s presence within the urban landscape.
“Water Wuz Here” | Toronto, Canada | Lynnette Postuma
Images and text by Lynnette Postuma, OALA CSLA