For the past 27 years, Betsy Damon’s art practice has revolved around micro and macro water systems. Water is subject, medium and structure; it is the creator of form and the foundation of life, yet the actual form and functions of water are largely invisible and often forgotten in materialistic cultures.
An invitation to exhibit at the Mattress Factory, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, offers an opportunity to awaken consciousness of the essential role of water and to initiate citywide centers for community action. In the gallery will be a multi-disciplinary installation and in the community will be in situ projects. Overall, this is a yearlong process creating a comprehensive articulation of water titled ‘Water Rules – Life’.
Pittsburgh is built on hills nestled in a gorge on the confluence of three rivers. This city was founded because its three rivers flowed abundantly and rapidly. The steel mills were driven by water, their detritus carried away by water. This was the ideal geography for expansion and industrial development. The city became a boomtown in which nothing was further from the minds of those great entrepreneurs than water quality. However, there was a time when people lived here for its clear pristine rushing waters and easily accessible springs. Now we stand facing a crisis without much of an iconography of the water’s essential role in life or an understanding of the imperative of correcting the alienation both consciously and physically.
Damon’s previous projects have involved designing unique models of urban water solutions. Concurrently, she has been researching the cultural significance in Western and Tibetan cultures of sacred water sites. Through this process, and from studying current research into the cellular importance of water quality to forming life, she has evolved a distinctive visual vocabulary of water. This vocabulary illuminates the vital importance of ‘alive’ water and how water is an extraordinarily sensitive and responsive medium and it is through this sensitivity that our enormously diverse life forms on this planet exist. Without this sensitivity we would have very few living elements and humans would not be one of them.
Water Rules–Life, seeking lost rivers in Pittsburgh, is a place of water consciousness. The installation is an immersive experience, with a walk-through Pittsburgh topography, flow forms, the living water drop, and videos of the heart-mind-water connection. But this is just the beginning. For the past year Betsy has been working in Pittsburgh, understanding the water mismanagement that plagues the city. She has been in discussion with Pittsburgh’s main waste water treatment center, storm water remediation organizations, small green energy businesses, local students and university professors of biology, art, and architecture, engineers studying the flow of storm water, local environmental artists, and everyday citizens.
This work has lead to a movement in Larimer, one of Pittsburgh’s most neglected neighborhoods, but one that is capable of becoming a model for new water infrastructure in Pittsburgh. This movement, Living Larimer, lead by Betsy Damon with Carnegie Mellon Professor Bob Bingham and the Kingsley Association of the Larimer community center, is garnering the energies of the community to gather rainwater. This would prevent the pervasive and sometimes catastrophic flooding in the surrounding areas and provide multiple amenities in a desecrated environment. Living Larimer will be showcased in the Water Rules–Life installation, with an in depth topographic map, interviews, and photographic documentation.