Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Food, Water, Life: Tufts University Art Gallery Exhibit

By Karen Kirchoff

Those with an interest in art as it explores science and global sustainability will appreciate Food, Water, Life by Lucy and Jorge Orta at Tufts University Art Gallery. The exhibit runs through December 16, 2012. GreeningRozzie members will particularly value the show.

I approached the Art Gallery and experienced immediate confusion: behind glass walls sit stainless-steel kitchen prep counters on wheels, dozens of pots and pans hanging overhead. A cooking demonstration seems about to begin, and yet, this is… an art gallery. Could I be in the wrong place?


This exhibit features functional, mobile pods that transform water and food. It examines and provides creative solutions for resource scarcity and distribution.

The Ortas travel the world, using and exhibiting their pods. They draw communities together in interactive events such as communal dinners using resourced food from markets, deftly transformed by local chefs who sometimes use the pods to prep the meals. In the fall of 2013, Philadelphia will be the site of such a communal dining event. At a European Biennial, the Ortas identified dirty city water in the Grand Canal nearby. They used their scientifically-informed water filtering pod to filter, purify, and bottle that water, distributing it to participants.

This project brings to mind a similarly inspired local endeavor that uses a mobile art pod to teach the skills of craft and sustainability: GreeningRozzie’s own Beth Ireland and her Turning Around America road trip.

A borderless world

The Ortas float the ambition of a borderless world in their artwork. To this end, an interactive “World Passport” component of the exhibit gathers signatures for a petition to amend the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). The Orta’s proposed Amendment 13.3 to the UNDHR would grant that:

“No individual would have an inferior status to that of capital, merchandise, telecommunication, or pollution that traverse all borders.”

I now have a stamped World Passport from this exhibit that requests “in return that each citizen take responsibility for their actions… [and] protect the environment and endangered species.” It urges the protection of the rights of people to move freely to territories of their choosing.

The Antarctica connection

Hard to envision? The Ortas show a path forward by traveling to the only place on earth that is borderless: Antartica. There they have set up an outdoor sculpture of tents embroidered with the flags of all nations.

A visitor to the exhibit can watch a film of the artists assembling their domes of fluttering flags, the sound of wind fiercely whipping around in that grey-white landscape.

Closer to home, we can see this philosophy in action with The Commons. The Commons identifies resources like water, food and knowledge that belong to us all, that cannot be privatized or owned. The Commons advances sustainability by working with communities to grant dignity to all people while finding solutions around our shared resources. Local JP Transition is also a model that deepens shared resources among community neighbors.

Treat yourself to a creative interlude as an antidote to this consumption-focused time of year by visiting Food, Water, Life before it leaves. Artwork like this serves as a bouy as we attempt to safeguard, as activists, our ocean planet and her people.

Movie Recommendation

There’s also a movie that I highly recommend everyone see on the big screen: Chasing Ice. Urge everyone you know to go see it. It’s a beautifully filmed documentary about shrinking glaciers. The photos and live-action film of these disappearing, gorgeous, 30,000- to 100,000-year-old ice sheets is breathtaking and quickens the pulse. It’s showing for a very short time at Kendall Square Cinema. Go see it!

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