Raising the Water Bar: transcending boundaries through art

Back in May my friends Collin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson asked me to come speak on a panel, (or in this case, in a circle). This would be the first in a series of events celebrating the opening of their new project; The Water Bar

The Water Bar is a store front in the NE Holland Neighborhood of Minneapolis, MN only a short distance from the Mississippi River. The idea behind the Water Bar is to offer a community gathering space that serves to connect members of the surrounding communities to water and water issues through art, action and more. It’s part gallery, part taproom, and part collaborative public art project.

The panel was made up of a selection of artists whose work responds to water and the issues it touches upon, representing a range of mediums from; dance, painting, theater, sculpture, music, and other conceptual genres. As we went around the circle sharing our backgrounds and experiences it was inspiring to see the different ways each of us was using water in our work, as material, inspiration, or gathering place. Here are a few examples.

Aaron Dysart, a sculptor, recently created an installation in which he mapped the topography of the Mississippi River basin. He then made a mold and produced an ice casting of the basins’ shape using Mississippi river water. In other words he cast the river in itself. The sculpture was then placed on view in a gallery at room temperature. As it melted, the river water returned back to itself.

Sarah Peters created a program called the Floating Library, a curated section of handmade artists books that are displayed on a floating raft. In order to visit the library one must move through water, canoe, swimming, paddle board, to name a few possibilities.

Annie Hejny, talked about her painting process which uses water and sediment from the Mississippi River and Lake Superior mixed with her paint to create images that speak to the relationships between water and their connecting land.

Ananya Chatterjea a choreographer from India who now lives in Minnesota shared a startling story about the women in India who must walk long distances from their villages to retrieve water allotments. Often these women are walking at night and their safety is a growing concern as many of them have become victims of rape. Ananya’s story was a powerful illustration revealing how incredibly layered and complex the issues surrounding water and the human body are.

By the end of our conversation both panel and audience members (30 approx) felt like one cohesive group. As we shared our thoughts about water some were familiar and some new. Water connects all of us. All the water there is, is all the water we have. We were all inspired by the ability water has to keep moving forward and by its unique capacity to seek the containers that need filling. How can we learn from these basic traits? How can we seek to fill our imaginations with new stories and possibilities for how to live in closer reciprocity to water?

Art speaks a language that transcends boundary. In this way art closely resembles water.  Because art awakens people emotionally it can open doors that other forms of communication way not be able to. Art increases the wisdom we have access to, and this wisdom is what can help us make more positive and life giving choices for the future. 

On further conclusion we need spaces like the Water Bar in our communities. These spaces act as a hub for the support and action necessary to push new ideas and inspiration forward. They help keep the momentum moving, facilitating points of entry and access for the greater community to engage creatively. We must build the necessary change from our hearts, minds and hands. It will easier if we do it together. We need spaces where the conversations can grow and the community can thrive. We need each other.