It’s easy to take water for granted; it predictably appears on demand in seemingly inexhaustible supply. Soberingly, in large parts of the world, potable water is an unattainable luxury. Since 2007, glass artist Katrina Hude has used art to cultivate discussion about water conservation. She does this through the motif of the watering can, as she explains in a public lecture to commence her residency at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Hude’s home and studio are surrounded by water; she lives in Washington State on Whidbey Island, though she has exhibited, worked, and taught in Australia, Japan, and across the United States. Through mid-June, she’ll be working in Toledo as the TMA’s Glass Pavilion Guest Artist.
Some works from her Watering Cans series convincingly replicate weather-beaten, old watering cans in impressivemimicry of dents, rust, and wear. Although some of her cans are accented with vibrant bursts of color, most have a deliberately subdued palette. Hude explains that she tries to make her point in quiet understatement, since “sometimes a whisper travels farther than a shout.” [i]
The topic is current and important. One in ten people in the world have no access to clean water, and half a million children die each year from diarrhea caused by drinking unsafe water.[ii] The controversial commoditization of water in part of water-stressed Johannesburg, South Africa inspired artist and architect Marjetica Potrc to create politically-charged instillations like Soweto House with Pre-paid Water Meter (2012). Hude’sdelivery is more subtle, but both artists address the commoditization of a vital necessity.
Conservation isn’t the only issue Hude addresses with her Watering Can series. They also suggest alternatives to mass-produced disposable containers, as people will save the handcrafted glass cup but not the disposable Styrofoam container that was made to be thrown away. Indeed, a recycled, patched-together watering can was an impetus that helped inspire the series in the first place.
“The ‘Watering Can’ series,” Hude writes, “is my gesture. With them, I hope to engage others in dialogue about nature and the preservation of natural resources. […] Big business is currently buying up and privatizing water rights all over the planet. What will it take to ensure that water does not continue to become a commodity manipulated by a powerful few?”[iii]
Hude inventively uses beauty to encourage us to rethink our treatment of earth’s finite resources, and her work raises interesting questions. We’ve commoditized water in much of the world. Is that really any different, in the final analysis, than commoditizing oxygen?
Those unable to see her in Toledo can watch her here in a video from the Tacoma Museum of Glass, in which she discusses Watering Cans:
[i] Artist’s lecture, Toledo Museum of Art, May 2, 2014.
[ii] WaterAid (http://www.wateraid.org/us/the-water-story/the-crisis); excellent information regarding potable water is found on the websites of The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/) and UNICEF (http://www.unicefusa.org/work/water/).
[iii] Email correspondence with the artist, April 15, 2014.