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‘Spill’: A New Exhibit Examines Humanity’s Abuse of Water

‘Spill’: A New Exhibit Examines Humanity’s Abuse of Water

Toxic messes turn into blazing — and angry — works of art at Vancouver’s Belkin Gallery.

Genevieve Robertson, Still Running Water (video still), 2017.

Oil slicks, toxic tailing ponds, poisoned aquifers, drowned landscapes and sludgy brown crude vomited up from the bottom of the sea. To say that humans have abused water is like saying the Titanic was a boating mishap.

The scale of this misuse is made as clear as a pellucid pool at the UBC Belkin Art Gallery’s new exhibition, Spill.

If you think that sounds incredibly depressing, you’re not wrong. But there’s another element at work — the blazing fire of anger and activism.

As Belkin curator Lorna Brown explains, the idea for the exhibition originated from a diesel spill in Vancouver’s English Bay in 2015. The incident reminded her of Melancholy Bay, the former title of Vancouver Harbour, given by Captain George Vancouver when he first landed here in 1792.

But melancholy doesn’t do justice to many of the situations documented in the show. Fury might be a better descriptor for the feeling sparked by this catalogue of human error, bad behaviour and insane decision-making presented in image, sound and installation, supported by exhaustive research.

Brown explains that although the artists featured in Spill — Carolina Caycedo, Nelly César, Guadalupe Martinez, Teresa Montoya, Anne Riley, Genevieve Robertson, Susan Schuppli and T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss — worked in different parts of the world, they were united by the common element of water. They also shared an activist approach and deep reservoirs of anger.

None are quite as furious as Susan Schuppli, whose large-scale installation Nature Represents Itself takes on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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