Throw a pebble into a lake or stream and ripples will radiate out from the place of entry, breaking the inertia at the surface. Minneapolis artist Camille Gage hopes her art piece, “I AM WATER,” will have a similar effect on people, catalyzing their sense of responsibility for tackling one of the biggest challenges we humans face: protecting Earth’s finite water reserves.
“I AM WATER,” currently exhibiting at the Institute on the Environment’s Commons Meeting and Art Space, is made up of dozens of small, hand-painted images called “ripples.” The ripples are painted by ordinary people who may also add a word or prayer for a special water body the painter holds dear. “It’s not just a captivating art piece,” says Gage. “It’s also a metaphor: We all have to contribute to save our precious resources.” The paintings are then joined with others on a canvas, creating a soft blue and green pool of water.
To create a ripple, Gage recommends thinking about places where we experience water, of the connection we have with water and how we feel when we’re close to it. The idea for the piece came about when Gage was artist-in-residence with On the Commons, a strategy center that spearheaded a project to establish the Great Lakes as a commons and legally protected bioregion. During that time, she met some indigenous leaders who taught her to see herself as integrated with — not separate from — the natural environment. Gage created “I AM WATER” as part of the outreach strategy to engage the public and get them thinking about how they value and connect with the Great Lakes, but it has grown to encompass all water on the planet.
Like a body of water, “I AM WATER” is more than what we see at the surface. It’s not a single installation, it’s many. And it’s being used differently in various places around the country and the world. For example, a group of Native American women carried blank cards with them on a Water Walk down the Mississippi River, inviting people along the way to contribute a ripple. Students may create a section as part of a lesson on water conservation. “It’s an interactive exhibit. People can participate in person or online, make their own ripple or have an artist make one for them. It can be used in schools to encourage students to look at stewardship and their relationship to water,” says Gage.
“We’ve taken things for granted for so long when it comes to the environment and our presumption of its resilience. The way we live – each of us needing to have our own little share – is antithetical to solving environmental problems. We each have to take responsibility for the whole, the commons,” says Gage.
“A big issue is that too many people are silent, afraid of looking stupid by speaking out about these issues. The commons is an old approach to looking at stewardship,” says Gage. She wants the experience to help people understand that they don’t need to be experts to contribute to the art piece – and, by extension, to a conservation movement. Gage also hopes the art will open people’s hearts.
“There is a spiritual aspect to this work,” she says of environmental activism. “There is a growing cohort of people internationally who are reconnecting with physical andspiritual ways of relating to the environment. If we look at problems based on negativity, it’s hard to make progress. We need to personally connect. If the work is rooted in love, compassion, joy, life, people will relate and gravitate.”
I AM WATER exhibits at IonE’s Commons: Meeting & Space through March. Located in R350 Learning & Environmental Sciences, the Commons: Meeting & Art Space is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Parking is available behind the building in the Gortner Avenue Ramp. Please stop by!
Images: Banner image by Shutterstock (John McLaird); hands painting by Melanie Noonan; Camille Gage in front of an installation by Scott Dibble.