Drinking Water is a participatory project created by Australian dance artist Sete Tele and Canadian interdisciplinary artist Lisa Hirmer. In response to the precarity of water systems around the world and the increasing injustices around the use and distribution of water, this multifaceted work examines the movements of water relative to human life, at the scale of the body, the scales of inter-human and human-place relationships, and at the scale of the planet. It uses this careful tracing of water’s movements to create a space where participant audiences can think together about the ways water as a material resists commodification.
Drinking Water brings together Hirmer’s interest in participatory public projects that explore collective relationships with contemporary issues with Tele’s interest in improvisational public choreographies that map movement across place. The collaborative project started with an exploratory work, called The Watering Hole, developed during the 2015 session of the Time_Place_Space:Nomad residency by Performance Space and Arts House. The development of this work was subsequently undertaken with the support of by Australian Council for Arts and Ontario Arts Council, and through residencies with CIA studios in Perth, Australia, and the Santa Fe Art Institute, USA. The work took its finished form as “Drinking Water” presented by Tasdance as part of the 2018 Junction Arts Festival in Launceston, Australia.
Drinking Water in two parts: (A) Residency (B) Installation / Performance.
For the residency Hirmer and Tele invited members of the community to participate in the project as water collectors. Hirmer and Tele personally visited each participating household for an introduction into the project and to develop a collection strategy together. The artists drew on survival techniques for gathering water such as rain collectors, solar stills, condensation, transpiration bags, etc. The idea is to imagine how water could be collected in a state of emergency and therefore to use what is available en site. Using these techniques highlights the way water is invisibly moving all around us, while simultaneously introducing labourious processes that change the collectors relationship to the collected water. Each household then spent the next few weeks collecting water. The artists also collected additional water from the local area in where they were based at Tasdance.
The installation component began partway through the water collection. The artists spent the ensuing weeks developing a physical frame for viewing all the collected waters. The installation explores the idea of water as a non-commodity and the ways it connects us to place and each other. The installation space became the site for the gathering of all our water collectors, sharing their stories and tasting each other’s water culminating in final performative event in which all the collected water was combined and then returned to the local watershed via a procession from Tasdance to Prince’s Square, the hub of Junction Arts Festival.
The residue from this iteration of Drinking Water, was that each water collector had their own story pertaining to water, and this project provided an opportunity to articulate, to share how deeply it resonated with each and every person.
Drinking Water was also programmed at the 2019 Fremantle Biennale. A local member of the community responded:
‘In Drinking Water you encounter unfiltered pools in glassware and in golden dishes where still leaves float. These form one of a series of cryptic signs that come together through detailed observation. Unlike Narcissus who revelled in his own glorious reflection, the artists’ calmly resist over-aestheticising their comment on water scarcity. They are not making a work within which we can fall in love, again, with human creativity. Amid subtle and restrained beauty you move through a topographical filtration system that prompts reflection upon, and honest accountability to, the state we are in. This is a much needed intervention within artistic practice—a field that must reconsider its emphasis on over-production; both in terms of aesthetics, resources and the unchecked valorisation of human culture that desperately needs to transform.’
Photos by Lisa Hirmer, Emily Dimozantos, and water collector Nina Levy.