Vanessa Pejovic | September 10, 2019
Last Wednesday, Masters students from the University of Waterloo’s Architecture program joined local artists and activists to share perspectives about water as it pertains to their studies.
It seemed fitting to take in this presentation at the lovely Old Post Office, perched above the Grand River, the evening sun lighting up the main floor. At one point, I looked up to notice the reflection of the Grand’s waters dancing on the ceiling while the speakers shared their work. Maybe I’m guilty of making connections where there aren’t any… but in any case, the stage seemed to be set appropriately for a relevant and thoughtful discussion.
Though different in focus and scope, the work of these eight speakers – ranging from a study of the political and ecological complications present in the South China Sea to a passion for protecting the groundwater closer to home in Centre Wellington - revealed several overlapping concepts, purposes and expressions.
Common Waters, indeed.
I was struck by the fact that each of the four students had chosen a creative expression of their complex and research-based work. Kobi’s study of the creation of a marine park in the South China Sea was translated into a board game he created to explore the way the moving political and environmental pieces in this scenario would impact one another. Logan presented a lyrical narrative based on the harvesting of ice for potable water during his time studying in the Arctic. Amal’s drawings demonstrated her exploration of the similarities between the journey of water and that of nomadic peoples in Somaliland. And Dani created a graphic novel about the lost art of fish harvesting in Indigenous communities along the coastlines of Georgian Bay as the focus of these landscapes shift to tourism and recreation.
During the second half of the evening, we learned from creatives bringing awareness to such critical issues as the effects of the TransCanada pipeline on our waterways and the implications of Nestlé’s potential access to Middlebrook well and surrounding groundwater in the Wellington region. Photography, music and printmaking are only a sampling of the arts through which the depth of meaning and passion is expressed in these causes. Striking, too, is the sense of community bonds that have clearly been created through these initiatives. Woven through it all is the concept of our water as sacred, as lifeblood, as a shared responsibility.
This led to a conversation about the place of art and creative expression in academic work and activism. Indeed, these individuals weren’t confined to the roles of either artist, activist or academic. This isn’t a surprise to me - we all wear many hats every day. I suspect if we wish to live fulfilled lives, it will demand a blend of roles and perspectives not only within our communities but as individuals. Art, as I heard it expressed at the event, can increase the palatability of academic and activist pursuits. Academics can be perceived as dry. The idea of activism can make some people feel uncomfortable. Art has the power to soften, enlighten or simplify complex ideas to be better understood and appreciated by those not directly involved. It can translate facts, concepts and emotions into universal truths, beyond language. It can help us relate to one another. It can help us resonate with one another. Maybe we need that more than ever right now.
Feel free to visit www.common-waters.com, www.saveourwater.ca, www.justinlangille.com, and www.rochellerubenstein.com for more information about the presenters and projects introduced here. Thanks again to the speakers and to the Common Waters team for the opportunity to attend and reflect on this series of events!
- Vanessa Pejovic, September 7, 2019