“Waterlines: Stories of Urban Ebb and Flow” at the Somerville Museum from Dec. 15, 2022, to March 22, 2023, asks us to meditate on water and what it means to us.
“As human beings, we are powerfully drawn to water,” curator Arlinda Shtuni writes. “Every important passage of our lives is touched by water. However, as urban dwellers, we often have an abstract connection to it, as invisible infrastructures and complex systems of water lines bring it to us. How has our need for water shaped the city over time? And as our cities densify and water cycles change, how can we envision the future? How will we navigate droughts and floods, learn to adapt to our changing environment, and move in new ways?”
One room is all digital apparitions and mapping, water abstracted to lines on charts. Georgie Friedman’s “Confluere” is a dazzling, dreamy looping projection of what appears to be water rippling across the dramatic curves of the museum’s iconic Bullfinch double staircase. “You Are Here” by A+J Art + Design (Ann Hirsch and Jeremy Angier) projects drips and waves across a 3D topographical map of Somerville, which exaggerates its hills for effect.
Caitlin & Misha’s “Surface Tension (Sorted by Percentile)” is a projection of a map of the United States that appears quilted and rivers like veins running blood red, then the image is disturbed by virtual drips and ripples. They say it “uses the real-time streamflow data api from USGS which provides information for 11 thousand sites including gauge height, streamflow percentile, and several other columns. The movement (blobs) in ‘Surface Tension’ are the data points for the percentile column for the date on which you are viewing it. All of the surface water on Earth is interconnected, and the disturbances at the specific points ripple out.”
A second room offers glass vitrines are filled with Hey There Kapplow’s (Heather Kapplow) “Seeking the Source” is a collection of dousing rods (Y-shaped tree branches said to vibrate downward when near water) and pendulums for finding water—and a sheet of brief stories about how Kapplow came by them, plus an affiliated media file for each one, primarily audio files of rushing water (sample them here). They’re magic talismans of our need and desire for water. Kapplow says the rods and pendulums explore “our commitment to retaining and nurturing intuitive understanding even while we rely on technology and enlightenment-age logic in our daily lives in ways that would seem to make intuition obsolete.”
Across that room is Faith Johnson’s “The Magic Of Water” offers a circle of pillows around a clear bowl and little clear rods and things that look like giant drops of water apparently containing (according to a sign) water from the Emerald Necklace Spring, Walden Pond and the Mystic River. Text on the wall encourages you to sit and meditate: “Greet and honor these local waters with your thoughts …. imagine the water of your body returing to balance …. imagine the waters of the earth returning to balance and may we know once again the magic of water.”
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