Watery Witnesses–An online screening series
November 10–December 10, 2020

Courtney Desiree Morris, Sopera de Yemayá, 2020, Single-channel video installation, color, sound, 7 min 31 sec, commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
The Way They Looked at Each Other, n.d., single-channel video installation (transferred from 16mm film), color, sound, 11 min 15 sec, commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
Allora & Calzadilla, A Man Screaming is Not a Dancing Bear, 2008, interactive single-channel video installation, color, sound, 70 min 54 sec

“Water is Life. Mní Wičóni” the Native American water activists chanted at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, in 2016. When water is analogous to life, it is more than a human right. The protest speaks of the necessity of fresh water for drinking and sanitation, as mandated by both the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council in 2010. It invokes a water affordability crisis that is raging across the planet and aggravated by sanitary regulations brought on by the ongoing pandemic. It also points to the privatization of water rights, recently imposed in Chile, as well as the contamination of water sources with bacteria and lead. The new and emerging contaminants that travel invisibly with “fresh water” are the vibrant matter written into a history of (de)industrialization, racialized dispossession, and the effects of racial liberalism’s “illiberal legacies.” These issues make “modern water” politically legible, as well as defining its infrastructures and the fragmented, hegemonic policies of the “hydraulic state.”

Yet the right to water as a human right, as fundamental and indisputable as this need for fresh water is, doesn’t fully encompass the capacious ancestral demands so succinctly captured in the phrase “Water is Life.” In reconceptualizing water beyond utilitarian paradigms, the Standing Rock protesters, among many other scholars and water advocates, open a vast field of water relationalities and imaginaries. Water, to them, is first and foremost the source of living and ongoing planetary existence. Living water circulates in a timeless hydrological cycle. It flows through rivers, bodies, seas, and it falls as rain and freezes as ice. It reminds us that all the waters on this planet are somehow connected and that 97% of all water is contained in the oceans. Waters are transfusing bodies, transporting ancestral and elemental wisdom, from ocean to rain to plant, to rock, to human. But water is also a living entity, a spirit, a person, an anima. As such it lives in a place, it entertains reciprocal relations with humans and nonhumans alike. To break water down into its chemical composition or to address it merely as a resource entails an “ontological violence,” dispossessing water of its living essence. 

This selection from TBA21’s large archives dives deeply into the liveliness of water and the mighty hydrological cycles that govern this water-rich planet. Spanning the past 15 years of artistic production, they interlace various narratives where water (in the shape of rivers, ice, drinking and ancestral water) is not only restituted from its deadly materiality, but acknowledged as an agency that interacts, witnesses, and holds human worlds. Three works trace the material memory of rivers in the face of environmental hazard and political drama. They span the relocation of mainly Roma refugees in the early 2000s and their return to the shores of the Danube river in Serbia, flooded during the high waters of 2006; the post-Hurricane Katrina waterscape of the Mississippi and the devastations of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward; and finally, the retelling of a forensic episode related to the US invasion of Iraq through three different watery witnesses. The Danube, Mississippi, and Tigris are not only set as the environments that stage human activity, or instrumentalize it as backdrop, but they are intrinsically entangled with the fate, melody, and imaginaries of human and animal lives. Rivers and water sources are not only implicated in an elementary fight, as in several regions in Chile where the lack of water has led to a humanitarian crisis and the forced movement of people, but, also, as a healing element, as a source of spiritual power. A spiritual connection that entangles the riverine with the oceans and with polar icefields, through the deity of Yemanyá and a series of fictional ice archives and meditations on south asian futurism.
Allora & Calzadilla, Patricia Domínguez, Mario García Torres, Courtney Desiree Morris, Himali Singh Soin with David Soin Tappeser, Želimir Žilnik
Soledad Gutiérrez and Daniela Zyman 
Online conversation on Tuesday, November 17 at 6pm
with artist Himali Singh Soin and curators Soledad Gutiérrez and Daniela Zyman.

Info and registration here