‘I AM WATER’ art poster campaign aims to get people talking about declining drinking water | theater arts

PITTSFIELD — The signs that we’ve taken our most basic resource for granted for far too long are everywhere you look. Right now, much of Pakistan is under flood waters, while the American Southwest faces a drought as severe as any in centuries.

Everywhere there are wildfires, dwindling reservoirs and unusable drinking water, from Jackson, Mississippi, to right here in the Berkshires in the Housatonic section of Great Barrington.

It is a catastrophe unfolding above us all the time, manifesting in strange and tragic locally specific ways, largely due to our reluctance to consider what we are doing to cause it. A new art project taking place this month wants to get people thinking by making signs visible, using the unexpected medium of roadside billboards.

photo of a cabin in the middle of a flooded river on a billboard

“Coal Creek” by artist Jane Szabo, on a billboard on Wahconah Street, shows a small cabin washed away by a flood. The billboard, part of ecoartspace’s “I AM WATER” art series, is one of six in the Berkshires.

The “I AM WATER” project features six art images on billboards in Pittsfield, North Adams and nearby New Lebanon, NY. It is sponsored by ecoartspace, an international collective of artists committed to solving the crisis facing our waters, forests and air.

“It should be about making the image have an impact,” Patricia Watts, founder and curator of ecoartspace, said by phone from their base in Santa Fe. “That’s art.”

Among the rising works is a digital photograph by North Adams-based artist Lyn Horton. His article, “Water Journal 14, 2022”, a detailed close-up of river water and ice is set to be posted on a billboard at the corner of Dalton Avenue and Route 8 near Charland Jewelers from Monday.September 19. It will be at least until October 19.

“This program is not primarily about finding work, but more about getting people’s attention to the subject – water,” Horton said.

Other works include “Drought”, by New York artist EJ McAdams, currently on view on State Street (Route 8) in North Adams until at least October 5. This is a digital image with the hollowed out word “drought”. four times, each filled in varying degrees of incompleteness with a watery blue color.

Some of the works are immediate and visceral – like Jane Szabo’s ‘Coal Creek’ on Wahconah Street, which shows a small shack washed away by a flood, or Renata Padovan’s ‘The Dam That Killed the Forest’, on West Housatonic Street, which features a crumbling landscape beneath bright red floodwaters. Others are more abstract, like Rebecca Riley’s “Flood Atlas” on Route 20 in New Lebanon NY, which shows a topographic map of a flood zone.

This is the third year that ecoartspace has used billboards to raise awareness of different climate issues, starting in 2020 in Missouri and last year in California. This year’s project also includes 11 billboards around New York.

The ecoartspace group now has around 1,000 members and serves as a “platform for artists to connect with each other”. This also includes gallerists, academics and a few scientists who meet through Zoom conferences and various projects like this.

“I think our motto is, all on deck,” Watts said. “The more artists doing this work, the better.”

Watts said the group began receiving submissions earlier this year, calling for work “focused on water as a source of life that mediates our planet’s ecosystems for humans and non-humans alike. humans”. They also wanted work “that challenges the thought processes involved in human interventions, the built environment that affects water quality, particularly agriculture, and the drought caused by climate change. human”.

Watts and another juror chose 40 finalists from approximately 450 submissions and featured them in an online survey of their members.

“When we offered members to vote, they were very drawn to the immediate images,” Watt said. “People want to see something realistic because they don’t really have time to look at it in passing. It has to be an image that is quick to decipher.

The group then raised over $10,000 – through contributions, GoFundMe and submission fees. In the Berkshires, they worked with Lamar Outdoor Advertising to hire two billboards and took advantage of the company’s offer to use public service announcements and so-called ‘intermediate’ billboards between other clients .

It’s a unique opportunity for artists to present their work in a new and unexpected way.

“Artists love having this in their portfolio,” Watt said. “They take pride in knowing that a lot of people see it in the public sphere, more like a museum that only a certain kind of audience might see. It is wide open to anyone passing by.

Horton, who recently moved to North Adams from Worthington, said his image was taken at a waterfall on Goldmine Brook in Chester, about a quarter of a mile in the woods from the road. But these details do not appear in the work, which is only the form of colors and shapes as immediately recognizable as they are mysterious.

As an artist, Horton has in recent years explored patterns she finds in nature – particularly trees – to suggest more abstract designs and patterns. This includes drawings, as well as projects like his “All Tied Up” series in 2019, which featured hanging sculptures made of sticks and branches, tied together with fabric. Her photography, which she never reframes, deals with the correlation between her subject and the process of making art out of it.

She said joining the ecoartspace has been a helpful connection to other artists and experts who are thinking about these critical issues.

“It’s about saving the world,” Horton said. “Our group has members all over the world, and they’re so interesting.”

But she added that this is only one dimension of her work. “I turn away from the militant question,” she said. “I am not an activist, I am an artist. What I try to do is talk about the moment.