Works on Water Triennial : 26 Days of Art + Theater
By Nicole Miller
To build a floating pedestrian walkway over the East River from Red Hook to Governor's Island—the Buttermilk Channel, where 19th century farmers once walked their cattle over a sandbar at low tide—you need permits from the Coast Guard, Small Business Services, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York City Planning Department, the New York State Department of State, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and permissions from the Port Authority and Governor's Island, along with approvals from the New York City Fire Department, the Office of Emergency Management, and the NYPD, according to Nancy Nowacek. Nowacek is an artist, designer, and creator of Citizen Bridge, a proposal for a temporary installation to re-connect New York's land masses and its people to the waterfront.
Nowacek is a member of the curatorial team for Works on Water, which kicked off on June 5 at 3LD Art and Technology Center in downtown Manhattan. The 26-day event, hosted by New Georges and Urban Water Artists, in collaboration with Guerilla Science, features artworks, theatrical performances, conversations, workshops, and off-site expeditions that explore diverse investigation of water in the urban environment.
At the core of the exhibit is the assertion that a new genre of art is emerging, says Katie Pearl, another member of the curatorial team. This work is often interdisciplinary, collaborative, and community-based. It draws explicit connections between art, science, and civic policy, turning artists into activist citizens, says Pearl.
“I would call myself an active citizen,” says Nowacek, whose work is represented in WoW by a play that reimagines Citizen Bridge as a performance. “I think citizen activist implies that I’m pushing against something for a very specific cause. In fact, I’ve become an activated citizen. Now that I’ve shaken hands with government in so many ways, I feel empowered to become active on many other levels." Through an ongoing dialogue with bureaucracy, non-profits, architects, engineers, and insurance companies, she hopes to carve channels for others to engage with the waterfront in innovative ways.
Nowacek's work is in dialogue with other forms of social practice and performance art in WoW. In Sarah Cameron Sunde's video work, 36.5 / a durational performance with the sea, the artist stands in a tidal bay for the full tidal cycle—a direct encounter with the water that evokes our often perilous negotiation with changing ecologies. Marie Lorenz invites New Yorkers to join her in a boat she built on 24-hour taxi trips around the waterfront. Tide and Current Taxi, like many of these works, offers a time-based, participatory engagement that challenges traditional representation in a gallery setting and the commodity value of art. Mary Mattingly's video work, Mittere, documents a burning boat on the water. According to Mattingly, the work is a personal form of letting go and a symbolic form of regeneration, as a response to her WetLand project and Waterpod, where UNY held our very first reading in September 2009.
The work of these artists suggests the distinctive assertions and challenges of water art. Unlike the land art of the 1970s, with its lone-ranger, masculine mythology, water art is emerging from a largely female cohort and serves community-building in a shifting landscape of ecological, economic, and political realities—where we live at the water's edge.
View work by Marie Lorenz (Party Barge in Deep Decline, and Jet Ski and Plastic Purse) and Mary Mattingly (The Waterpod and Other Photographs) published on Underwater New York and in Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfront.