Reader's Response to David Clarke's Water and Art
Water has become a theme for artists in recent years. David Clarke, author of Water and Art, talks about how Chinese artists have began to use water using many different approaches in Chinese contemporary art (i.e., through the use of ink, indirect protest, etc.). Western artists such as Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski also use art in a form of protest, only it is not the type of complaint that one usually thinks of when they think of protest. The protest in Starrs and Cmielewski’s artwork, a video display at the Arts House Melbourne called “And the Earth Sighed,” protests what humans have done to the Earth, specifically to water, and demands engagement
Protest art like Starrs and Cmielewski’s aims to show the impact that humans have on the environment. In an essay titled, “And the Earth Sighed a Case Study” published in the Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Arts, Julianne Pierce, Cmielewski, and Starrs explain that the videos that Starrs and Cmielewski produced for “And the Earth Sighed,” were “captur[ed] and manipulat[ed] . . .to talk about human impact (Pierce, Cmielewski and Starrs 378-379). Pierce, Cmielewski and Starrs explain that the videos are not just cool images of places in the world that people can look at and engage with superficially. The artists have done research, gathered data, and had discussions with climate change experts to learn how to best manipulate and represent the impact of humans on the environment in their video art. “Each landscape presented in the work has been chosen for its degree of threat, erosion or irreparable damage and the process of capturing the image is as significant as the final Artwork” (Pierce, Cmielewski and Starrs 379). Yet, the interaction with the artwork does not seem like the type of reaction the artists were aiming for.
In the Vimeo video of “And the Earth Sighed,” people are seen observing from a platform above the videos which play on screens in the floor and also interacting with the video, especially those of water, in interesting ways—dancing, sitting as if they were on a beach, and jumping from coral reef to coral reef to prevent “falling” into the deep ocean water. The perspective from above shows the problems more distinctly than the interaction on the floor. The interactions of mostly children in the videos show engagement with the filmed water, but not concern, which seems to be the point of the artwork, to generate concern. Perhaps this is why Pierce, Cmielewski and Starrs end their essay by saying, “The human species is deluded, living in a fantasy world, which we believe is real and abundant but actually faces an unknown and uncertain future” (Pierce, Cmielewski and Starrs 381). The children in the videos seem to not be concerned, yet many children are concerned for their futures on a planet that may be dying, or at least drastically changing, due to global climate change.
Clarke points out that some of the Chinese artists he mentions create their works in order to protest the authoritarian polices of the communist Chinese government. “Chinese art . . . . comes into being. . . in response to particular state ideologies and modernization policies, and may be read as offering a critical and even subversive engagement with them” (Clarke 216). Clarke says that even though it may seem as if Chinese artists’ obliqueness may be at least in part due to the “indirect nature of art,” some of the artworks he mentions, such as those related to the Three Gorges Dam, can be seen as protest art. However, Chinese artists have to be careful about protesting against the government for fear of harsh retaliation.
Water is vital to life, and the global climate change issues are often related to water—drought, flood, pollution, potable drinking water. Contemporary artists who choose water as the subject of their works often do protest because humans are protesting. The devastation of Earth has been allowed to continue for too long without concern. The art related to the global climate change issues related to water is a way to demonstrate the urgency of the matter.
Clarke, David. "The Watery Turn in Contemporary Chinese Art." Clarke, David. Water and Art. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2010. 215-253. E-book. 3 May 2020.
Pierce, Julianne, Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs. "And the Earth Sighed a Case Study." Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Arts. Ed. Julián Jaramillo Arango, Andrés Bubarnol Felipe César Londoño and G. Mauricio Mejía. Manizales, Colombia: Department of Visual Design, Universidad de Caldas, and ISEA International, 2017. 378-381. E-book. 3 May 2020.
Starrs, Josephine and Leon Cmielewski. And the Earth Sighed. Arts House Melbourne. And the Earth Sighed. Melbourne: Vimeo, 2016. Web. 3 May 2020. <https://vimeo.com/175772743>.