Water is incontrovertibly a necessity for the survival of all life on earth, yet we often take it for granted and literally pour it down the drain. This summer, the exhibition Water, which features 40 works by both Australian and international artists, asks visitors to take the time to really think about this precious resource.

In Australia we seem to alternate between having too much and not enough water – communities are either inundated or parched– and this gives the show a timely sense of urgency. As the curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow explains, “There are a number of key reasons Water is relevant now as an exhibition and subject for shared thinking and conversation – our continuing experience of drought, water shortages and extreme events such as bushfires, cyclones and floods, and connected to this, climate change.”

Melting glaciers, rising oceans and other catastrophes precipitated by anthropogenic climate change are a theme in many of the works on show.

In his series The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, 2013, Berlin-based artist Julian Charrière presents photographic documentation of a performance in which he attacked an iceberg with a blowtorch for eight hours. As Barlow points out, this is “a dramatic illustration of ‘man’ melting a glacier.” Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson makes the same point with more subtlety, she says. His sculptural installation Riverbed resembles the rocky landscapes in Iceland, “where the major glaciers are all shrinking.”

But despite the highly political and distressing issues it addresses, Kirrihi Barlow hopes that visitors will also immerse themselves in the beauty on show in Water. “I love being in the water myself, diving beneath the waves,” she says. “I hope the exhibition captures these aspects of the subject, a sense of wonder and emotion, and allows us to laugh even when we might be tempted to cry!”

Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
7 December – 26 April 2020

This article was originally published in the November/December 2019 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Tracey Clement