Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas
detail: Lamb I by Ernesto Pujol

Conversation XIV: Water

March 23 - July 28, 2013 | 20/21 Gallery Conversation Wall

Water is timeless… or is it? This installation of works from the Spencer’s permanent collection explores contemporary artists’ perspectives on the elixir of life: H₂0. Many of the works assembled for this installation take an eco-critical approach to the subject matter, exploring pollution and scarcity, whereas others address water less literally and more symbolically, as a cleansing or destructive force. From this selection of 20th- and 21st-century works, a subtle visual dialogue emerges between the Kaw River of Kansas and the Yangtze of China.

Questions for Lawrence Artist Lisa Grossman

What were your impressions of the Water exhibition, overall? Did you come away from it with new thoughts or ideas?

First of all, I appreciated the quote from Ben Franklin. I think most people are aware that water is a finite resource that our very lives depend on. It's been said that the next wars will be fought over water so I'm thrilled the Spencer is presenting this exhibit for reflection and conversation. I'm deeply honored to be a part of it.

It was fascinating to see my print panels juxtaposed with the Yangtze piece, opposite, and also with the film footage of the 1951 flooding in this region. Honestly, I can't stop thinking about the artist, Chen Zhiyuan, who drank from the Yangtze River. As I approached the photographs I was saying to myself, he's not really drinking that water is he? I'm pretty sure it's one of the world's most polluted rivers. Sure enough, he drank the water, and I wasn't surprised that the placard revealed that he became ill after the project. When I kayak on the Kaw or most waterways, I try to minimize my contact with the water and am very careful to not ingest any. I found myself thinking of this artist sacrificing his health to make a statement about the river, maybe in the way hunger strikers attract attention to an issue. Intriguing, and I hope he stays healthy enough to keep making art!

Was there a particular moment or observation that inspired 86 Bends of the Kaw? An “aha” moment that you would be willing to share?

When I began making paintings and prints of the Kaw from my footage, I was driven to find a way to grasp a sense of the whole river, all those sweeping bends that you see from the air. I started making series of woodcuts in an attempt to give a sense of movement and time passing. Stepping back from the prints, I realized they gave an impression of the frame-by-frame nature of my snapshots and video from my experience of flying back and forth over the river. I set out to make one large piece that captured the entire 170 miles of the river as if you were flying from Kansas City to Junction City, toward sundown.

I couldn't help but notice and appreciate the black and white footage of the '51 flood rolling next to my piece. It has a bit of that same choppy feeling in monochrome.

Did anything surprise you about the view of the Kaw from a plane at sunset?

Until 2002, I'd never seen the Kaw from the air. On a flight from Los Angeles back into Kansas City, I caught an unforgettable glimpse of the river as we were flying low over Lawrence where I live. I shot some video out the window of this gorgeous blue river snaking West toward the sunset. I had to see more, so I began flying the 170-mile length of the river valley with a local pilot so I could document it with photography and video to use for my work. Just a little elevation revealed the Kaw’s stunning beauty that most people never have the opportunity to see.

What is unique or crucial about visual artists’ contributions to conversations about the environment?

That's a huge question. Visual art's impact can be immediate and powerful. Some of it's shocking, saddening, confusing, inspiring…there's a place for every angle and approach. Artists can help people see, think, reflect, feel, and perhaps care, and I believe that's absolutely crucial for progress to happen in reinvisioning our place on the planet, in our bioregions, in the cosmos.

Public Programs

in April
Activities: SMA Art Cart: Water
Saturdays: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM / Spencer Museum of Art, Gallery 405
Sundays: 12:00 – 4:00 PM / Spencer Museum of Art, Gallery 405
The Art Cart is a drop-in activity station where families and other groups can enjoy hands-on art projects together, taking inspiration from the works on view in the Museum's galleries. Parking is free behind the Museum on weekends.
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Symposium: Beyond the Long Hot Summer: The Future of Water in Kansas
4:00 – 7:30 PM / Spooner Hall, The Commons
This symposium offers an opportunity for researchers, students and the community to engage and observe the varied perspectives of Kansas experts regarding the impacts of climate change on drought, water resources and agriculture. This event is open to the public. Participants include: Aavudai Anandhi, Kansas State University; Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey; Jim Butler, Kansas Geological Survey; Johan Feddema, University of Kansas; Tony Layzell, University of Kansas; Don Steeples, University of Kansas; Susan Stover, Kansas Water Office. For complete details and to register visit: http://web.ku.edu/~crgc/IGERT/events/SP13Symposium.html

Sponsored By: Institute for Policy & Social Research, NSF Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, The Commons, Environmental Studies Program, Haskell Environmental Research Studies Program, KU Biodiversity Institute, Kansas Geological Survey, CHS Foundation, and NSF C-CHANGE IGERT Program

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Workshop: World Environment
9:30 AM – 3:00 PM / Spooner Hall, The Commons
This free multidisciplinary K-16 teacher workshop explores environmental issues from around the world. In the afternoon, participants will visit campus museums to learn about their resources for teaching about the environment. A visit to the Spencer Museum of Art focuses on using art to explore global environmental issues. A visit to Natural History Museum helps educators making use of teaching resources, including the "Panorama of North American Plants and Animals". To register, contact Randi Hacker at rhacker@ku.edu.

Sponsored By: KU International Area Studies Centers: Center for East Asian Studies; Center for Global and International Sudies; Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies; Kansas African Studies Center; Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia

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Symposium: Global Water: Drought, Conservation and Security in the 21st Century
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM / Spooner Hall, The Commons
From sub-Saharan Africa to the American Midwest, rural and urban communities are searching for ways to deal with drought conditions and conserve water. There are a number of ways that local governments work with rural and urban communities to conserve water. This conference addresses various approaches and to water conservation, and touches on the technical, social, political and environmental issues associated with the use and sustainability of this resource. For more information and to register, email: jduhamel@ku.edu

Sponsored By: Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREEES), Center for Global and International Studies (CGIS), Center of Latin American Studies (LAS) and Kansas African Studies Center (KASC), Environmental Studies Program

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Activity: What a Wonderful World
10:30 – 11:30 AM / Spencer Museum of Art, Gallery 317 Central Court, Gallery 405, Gallery 319
Explore water, plants, and animals in art. You will encounter flora and fauna alike on this tour of the Museum led by Spencer Museum director of education Kristina Walker. Participants will create sun art prints. This program is best suited for families with children ages 5-8. No registration necessary. The Spencer hosts a family activity the last Saturday of every month.