The Art of Science: Troubled Waters

Phyllis Ewen, Northern Waters 3, 2013
Phyllis Ewen, Northern Waters 3, 2013

Northern Waters, by Massachusetts-based artist Phyllis Ewen, is a series of sculptural drawings looking at water as “a life force that resist being controlled.” Ewen builds her 3D images by scanning maps, charts and photos and then cutting them and building them into layers, adding paint and text, most recently in puzzle-piece shapes.

Ewen’s work explores the ways in which “life-giving waterways have been contested, diverted, polluted, and exhausted by human intervention.” In the case of Northern Waters, the oceans and glaciers are being profoundly reshaped, not by the obvious interventions of dams and agriculture, but by the effects of human-caused global warming.

Some of Ewen’s sculptural drawings are included in a global-warming themed exhibition called Thaw, at the Dorsky Gallery in Long Island City, NY, through April 6. You can see lots more of her work at her website.

The Art of Science: Roni Horn’s Library of Water

Roni Horn, Water, Selected, 2007
Roni Horn, Water, Selected, 2007

Artist Roni Horn has been traveling to Iceland from her home in New York since the 1970s. The unique nature of the Icelandic landscape and climate deeply informs all her work, which ranges from sculptures and drawings to photos and books.

In the 1990s she discovered the local library in the small town of Stykkisholmur and was impressed with its architectural style and its views of the sea, sky, town and harbor. When the library ceased operations in 2003, Horn proposed the creation of a permanent installation in the building. The result, Vatnasafn/Library of Water, opened in 2007.

The Library of Water consists of three linked parts: The first, Water, Selected is a sculptural installation of 24 glass columns containing water collected from ice from some of Iceland’s major glaciers. The columns bend and reflect the light onto a rubber floor which is printed with words in Icelandic and English related to the weather. As Gordon Burn described it in The Guardian, “with the windows cut to the floor, Library of Water pokes up into the weather. It sets its face at everything the weather can throw at you, which in Iceland invariably means extremes of light and wind and cold; visibility often varies from minute to minute.”

The second exhibit, Weather Reports You, consists of taped interviews with 100 Icelanders about their interactions with the weather and selections from Horn’s books about Iceland. The third part of the library is a private writers’ studio where each year writers from Iceland and abroad are invited to live and work for several months at a time.

The idea of a library of water gathered from glaciers is not only beautiful and novel, but may become essential. A great deal of information about historical climate, atmospheric and geological conditions is trapped in the ice of glaciers. As global warming causes the glaciers to melt, we may have no choice but to look at them in a preserved and cataloged form, like antiquated books in a library.

Information about visiting the Library of Water is here.  If you can’t make it to Iceland, you can see related work by Roni Horn at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in New York City until January 11, 2014.