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Frequently Asked Questions about Water Medicine

  1. Who has produced Water Medicine ?
  2. What is Water Medicine ?
  3. Why Water Medicine ?
  4. Who is Water Medicine for?
  5. How do you apply Water Medicine ?
  6. What equipment does Water Medicine use?
  7. Who has funded Water Medicine ?
  8. Where can I read more about Water Medicine ?

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Who has produced Water Medicine?

Robert Baines, Ros Bandt, Clare Belfrage, Bronwyn Goss, Jacqui Gropp, Adrian Jones, Janie Matthews, Anne Neil, Susan Purdy, Sue Saxon, Liz Williamson
Kevin Murray
John Curtin Gallery
Tour management
Art on the Move
Graphic Designer
Ian Robertson

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What is Water Medicine?

Water is everything and nothing. It is the dominant substance both inside and outside our worlds. It falls from the sky and pours out at the turn of a tap. Water is virtual. Watermark is a design without ink. Water cannons are weapons without trace. Virtual reality is a world watered down until all substance is dissolved.
Medicine is a practice governed by a professional institution that accredits individuals to advise and care for the ill. Rituals and devices give medicine an aura—white coats, receptionists, waiting rooms, stethoscopes, phials, methylated spirits, etc. This clinical aura instils confidence in the minds of patients that medicine contains an answer to their ills. Those whose confidence is spent might turn to fringe medicines, such as ‘Chinese medicine’ or ‘bush medicine’. These alternative practices have a different set of accoutrements. Beyond fringe medicines are domestic medicines such as aromatherapy, which offer various psychological and physical benefits. More recently, Feng-Shui has been adopted by some Westerners as away of designing a ‘healthy’ environment.

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Why Water Medicine?

Where does art go?
As many commentators now argue, the modernist narrative of art has reached the end of the end. With this end comes an uncertainty about the role of art outside market economics or interest group propaganda. Philosophical doubt has eroded foundations of the sublime, such as God, nature and artistic genius. Hany Armanious’ installation at Contempora5 last year created a temple atmosphere with daily candle-lighting. Is this the art of the future?
The relationship between art and medicine
With this question in mind, it seems worth exploring art as a kind of medicine. Perhaps more like white magic than professionalised care, there may be effects that art has on the being of a visitor that go beyond optical stimulation. From the other point of view, it may be worth exploring the aesthetic basis of medicine, as evident in the security experienced through the apparatus of clinical knowledge, such as vials, ampoules and syringes. Within medical research and general practice, it is accepted that placebos can ameliorate illnesses. How close are placebos to works of art?
Lifestyle rituals
There seems to be a growing interest in subtle ways of changing one’s sensibility within a familiar environment. Before aromatherapy emerged, how many people had imagined scenting their homes with oils? Why are so many interested in the art of spatial arrangements, as contained in the school of Feng-Shui?
Life after church
Church rituals have an appeal beyond doctrine. Clearly their purpose is not purely symbolic, but also to instil a contemplative state of mind in the worshipper. The Catholic Church uses not only incense, but also elaborate routines involving consuming and cleaning. Before mass, the priest sprinkles the congregation with lustrated water, using a device known at the aspergillum. Similar devices are now appearing in perfume shops, for sprinkling homes with rose-scented water. Is it possible to imagine this appropriation of ecclesiastical ritual to secular ends will continue?
Water colonisation
An essential component of European settlement is the development of agricultural conditions similar to those of the home countries. This model has determined the suburban pattern of habitation, with its emphasis on the lawn as a claim to the land. The survival of this lawn depends on regular watering, particularly during long hot summer months. This watering provides one of the quintessential pleasures of Australian childhood—dancing under the sprinklers. The achievement of lawn is particularly hard-won in a city such as Perth, with its sandy soils. Here water must be drawn up from the artesian basin and reticulated. Sometimes pellets can be distributed to increase the water-holding capacity of the soil.
Making virtual concrete
The early nineties saw the discovery of ‘virtual’ as a word that miraculously removed the dangerous substance from activities without destroying its potency. Thus, they discovered ‘virtual sex’, ‘virtual reality’, ‘virtual architecture’, etc. Such a transcendence of the material world is clearly fantasy. For such phenomena to exist, they have to be experienced, even if though the thin veil of the small screen. Used as a synonym of ‘virtual’, ‘water’ reveals a range of poetic meanings that touch on the ethereal desires of our time without denying their materiality. Already there are signs of this trend in the widely heralded CD-ROM Riven . This sequel to Myst has a ‘water enable’ option that indicates the intense focus on water for creating a new digital medium of expression.
Water as a artistic medium
Certain matters have been intensively explored as media for artistic creativity—clay, oil paint, spun fibre, stone, wood, glass, paper, etc. The instability of water seems to make it unsuitable for art making, but that anxiety of impermanence belongs to an age when durability was valued more highly than expression. In sound, water provides a wide palette of forms (drops, lapping, waves, shower, flushing, etc.) Can these forms be abstracted to house other content (e.g., a shower of words)? Though not visible, the effects of water are also important in textile arts, particularly the technique that employs soluble fabrics. Jewellery has traditionally set hard substances, such as diamonds. A new challenge is to imagine how it might set a liquid, and what meaning may be given to it. As an archetypally universal element, water challenges art to create something special out of what is so common. As a phenomenological exercise, it is kin to art works such as Duchamp’s readymade, which explored what was left of art when you removed all craft. In the case of water art, preciousness is in the hand of the maker.
The growing importance of water
With the growth of world population and the increased degradation of land through agriculture, water is being considered a more important resource than previously. A good example of how water can be used to make this point is the recent Greenpeace action. Members of the Kiyoto environmental summit were given small jars of water, supposedly from melting ice caps, to highlight the finite quality of the earth. Technologies have evolved such as biosensors that are capable of measuring minute quantities of substance in a solution (e.g., a packet of sugar in Port Phillip Bay). Commercially, water has become an issue at an individual level, with new products and services for drinking water, and domestically with the privatisation of water boards and their subsequent marketing programs.
The end of the millennium is expected to be a loud business, with global parties, eschatological fantasies and feverish retrospectives. Rather than compete with other events with the millennium as their theme, it may be more important to provide a space separate from the noise, where visitors can find some ‘time out’. An exhibition with an elemental theme is important for touching on something that all share in common.
Anniversary of Federation
Beyond the millennium is the commemoration of agreement to join the various colonies together into one nation. This is an ideal opportunity to take in the breadth of Australia. With such concentration on the southeastern coast, it is rare to acknowledge the various reaches of the continent. Symptomatic of this is the emphasis on the Pacific Rim. What about Australia’s other ocean, the Indian? The lead up to Federation seems an ideal horizon for an exhibition to emerge ‘from the west’.

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Who is Water Medicine for?

Water Medicine offers gallery visitors respite from the ‘rush’ towards a new century and millennium. Visitors minds and bodies are focused on the element of water. The exhibition contains works that involve water in either their fabrication or display. They embrace both aesthetic and cultural meanings. Aesthetically, artists explore how this very common element can be made precious. Culturally, they evoke the place of water in Australian life.

In particular terms, the exhibition aims to highlight the place of Western Australia in our national psyche. The tour begins in Perth, where the distribution water is of great public concern, and—like the weather—the exhibition moves eastwards. Nearly half the artists are from Perth and there are multiple references to the Perth-Kalgoorlie water pipe designed by CY O’Connor.

Water Medicine aims to capitalise on the shared experience of the millennium by presenting an exhibition that is accessible on a variety of levels, thus engaging a broad range of visitors.

To everyone
The daily shower/bath is a major point of reference in the exhibition. This act represents a private ritual that is shared throughout (most of) the country. Reality is suspended for a few minutes between wakefulness and dreams. This enjoyment of water is made an object of concern by ecological factors: it is given both immediate relevance with the recent water crisis in Sydney, and longer-term importance as a limit to growth. Such common concerns are focused through the opportunities for audience participation (see Shower Book below).
To the Australian.
Water brings to the surface important elements
of our shared experience as Australians. Living in a dry continent gives water a preciousness it may not have elsewhere. Suburban settlement involves harnessing this resource for the cultivation of green lawns. The Western Australian view on this is a useful moment in the celebration of Federation. At the same time, the protection of water holes by Aboriginal peoples can be recognised as a significant contribution to the care of the land.
To the contemporary art audience
In a post-material age, artists are facing the challenge of making works out of unstable materials, such as water, smoke and sound. Understanding the dynamic relationship between space and thing, artists are now looking at the space as part of the work. As the category of art becomes more fluid, it begins to inhabit other practices, such as the church and the surgery. In the NGV 1997 Contempora5 exhibition, Hany Armanious created a reflective context with candles lit at specific times of the day. Such installations parallel the evocation of the sacred in religious spaces. While evoking a similar experience, Water Medicine touches on the ‘art’ of healing—the garb medicine wears to package its operations. While most works do not relate to medicine directly, the idea of art as a placebo is used to frame the experience for visitors in a way that freshens their encounter with works in a gallery.
To the contemporary craft audience
Recent cultural history has seen a demarcation of visual arts and crafts. This leads sometimes to unhelpful rivalries and resentments about allotments of cultural capital. With the emergence of media arts, however, visual arts and craft begin to share more in common as ‘material arts’ than they may differ in conceptual sophistication. By removing the ‘precious material’ particular to craft, this exhibition aims to further explore how art and craft might sit together (and apart) as practices for framing reality.
To the technologists
Initially, the virtual was known by its remoteness from material reality. Of late, however, electronic artists have shown great interest in the material extensions of information, such as its place in the body and soil. This is manifest at a popular level with the best-seller CD-ROMs, Myst and Riven, which use water to define their virtual spaces. The goal of immersion in virtual reality demonstrates the kindred nature of electronic and aqueous media. As ‘virtual walking’, swimming is an activity where normal constraints of gravity are suspended. Water fights, pistols, cannons and torture provide a means of violence that leaves no trace. It is according to this logic that the phrase ‘water medicine’ has been coined. Thus the exhibition is designed to run alongside more technological realisations of the virtual.
To the academic
The exhibition invites thought on water as a ‘natural symbol’. The element of water has lent itself to a variety of ritual uses. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was initially related to the purification of participants involved in sacrificial rituals. There are vestiges of this ritual today in the ‘Asperges’ of the Christian mass when the priest sprinkles holy water on the congregation with an aspergillum.

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How do you apply Water Medicine?

Water medicine®features the new organic substance--H20. This entirely natural element can be applied to a number of physical and psychological ailments. Employed by people for millennia, Water Medicine® is now available for general use.

The following are just some of the many uses of Water Medicine®:

A glass of tap water after working in the garden The surprise of being caught by an automatic sprinkler
Leaning into a swiftly flowing stream and drinking without hands A shower at work
After a bout of sobbing Washing dishes when direct sunlight hits the water
The sound of heavy rain Walking in the rain
The smell of steam while ironing Ice on a burn

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What equipment does Water Medicine use?

Water Medicine is a speculative science, inviting artists and visitors to fill in the details. At this stage, the outline concerns that part of everyday life that approaches the sacred, without any fanfare.

Water is both a common element of life and at the same time a critical medium for life to continue. In our domestic routines, water figures as an important lubricant to smooth the transitions between night and day.

At a national level, water has provided an important stage for the colonisation of Australia. Figures such as C.Y.O'Conner, who oversaw the pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie, have helped shape the way we inhabit the dry continent.

As a speculative science, it invites acts of imagination to create both its symptoms and cures. Water Medicine employes the following devices: Biosensors, Ampulla, Aspergillum, Gallipot, Phial, Piscina, Reticulation, Feng Shui, Homeopathy, P'ungsuchirisol, Asperges, Baptism, Hyssop, Charmstones, Elixir, Lustration, Riven, Wetware, Ampoule, Syringe, Shower

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Who has funded Water Medicine?

The Water Medicine exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous support of the following institutions:

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Where can I read more about Water Medicine?

H.G.B. Mason Darkest West Australia : A Guide To Out-back Travellers Kalgoorlie: Hocking & Co, 1909  

Water in Landscape Architecture New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978  

Roald Hoffman & Shira Leibowitz Schmidt Old Wine, New Flasks : Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition New York: Freeman & Co, 1997  

Thomas A.P. van Leeuwen The Springboard in the Pond : An Intimate History of the Swimming Pool : MIT, 1999  

Cyril Ayris C.Y. O'Connor : The Man For His Time Perth: Black Swan, 1996  

Geoffrey Blaney The Golden Mile St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1993  

Liam Davidson The Betrayal Ringwood: Viking, 1999  

Marq de Villiers Water Wars : Weidenfeld & Nicolson General, 1999  

Roger Deakin Waterlog : A Swimmer's Journey through Britain : ,   

Dogen Shobogenzo : Zen Essays Honolulu: University of Hawiai (trans. Thomas Cleary), 1986  

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