WetLand in Process

1) Why is the title WetLand? Do you remember where you were when you thought of it?

I’m concerned about the slow erasure of wetlands around the world as an important ecosystem that breeds aquatic and terrestrial life, protects the mainland from storms, and naturally cleans the air and waterways. They are often drained for large building projects and result in areas that flood, destructing homes and infrastructure in a loss that is for some unrecoverable. The largest loss is ecosystem diversity, which has tremendous reverberating effects throughout the natural world, and in the end makes the planet a worse place for us all to live. So I wanted to bring more attention to the necessity of wetlands, and pair it with a sinking house to describe causation through a symbolic artwork. I was also thinking about the combination in a very literal way: wet and land, to describe a watery, sinking future.

2) What’s the process of creation in such a work? Can you take us through some of the steps from idea to construction to opening?

Yes, in this piece I began considering the natural zone between the river and urban space. In many cities, it’s a space that is either overlooked or that undergoes a process of quick development. It’s a place where we must consider nature, because we are so close to it and dependent on it. Reconnecting the water with a row house puts many of us in the place of the inhabitant. I was spending a lot of time thinking about how we live in a social system that allows us an illusion of disconnect from nature. We expect our food to be in the grocery store, we are accustomed to clean water coming from the tap, but those are expectations most of the world doesn’t have, and they are things that we can’t always be dependent on. Marrying nature to the city directly describes these food, water, and energy systems we depend on. So the process involved many meetings, from high school students to community garden groups. I’m currently in the process of collecting materials to build with. Later this summer we will build the structure at Pier 9 and then float it to Penn’s Landing where we will begin inhabiting it. Along the way there are many other steps, including permits and insurance that we will work out.

3) I think in Chinatown, Jack Nicolson says, “The man had water on the brain.” How did creating work on water become what seems to be your dominant creative medium? How do habitat, water and art connect for you?

These things are all necessities for me, and I need one as much as the other. As artists we often work with our own needs and sometimes those are universal. Water has always been a particular concern for me. I grew up in an area that continually flooded, and where the drinking water contained dangerously high levels of agricultural runoff, having long-term effects. I understood the world much better by watching bottled water become a popular commodity and through learning about Bechtel and the World Bank’s privatization of water in Bolivia, which was eventually reversed through long protests.

4) You’ll be living on Wetland. Why is this important? What does having a person living in the environment affect the overall work? Additionally, there will be workshops and community-creating events there—and not just visitors—why is having communities being active within Wetlands important?

Living on WetLand is an essential part of an experiment that needs to be played out in real time. Like a form of performance art it’s an exploration through endurance, and we also keep the living systems running. It’s an act of creating an ecosystem from which three people will eat, drink, shower, work, sleep, learn from, and share.

4a) There is an interesting relationship between the very “outsider-y” aspect of an artist living in her artistic construction floating on the Delaware for a month or so, and creating programming within Wetlands that seems aimed to build a new kind of community. How do you see this relationship between the solitary artist and the need to construct a community?

Well like many people, I thrive on both solitude and solidarity. I believe we need to make more time and physical spaces to be together in, to strengthen the ties we have found in the virtual space and regain those that have been lost because of those separations. We need to make a better world to live in and when we are confined to inside spaces it’s easy to forget about the larger world around us, and how something we do here affects someone across the world.

5) There seems to be a distinct “manmade-ness” of Wetland; it is clearly a manmade structure in its visually striking appearance, and its materials, recycling of resources and how it uses natural processes—as oppose to a more “living in nature” situation. Why this choice?

Yes, it’s important for me to distinguish this work from doing something in a “back to land” context. Many times people leave cities because they want to be closer to land, and because they can. But many people cannot. Leaving the city in most cases is a luxury that allows for a different perspective. We want to be able to have more chances for some of that perspective here in our cities, and bringing nature and natural living systems to a city’s periphery is a way I’ve thought to do that. Living in a city is such an asset. There are always people around we can turn to, learn from, and work with. I believe that our urban centers will need to be the future sites that produce our daily necessities (especially food, energy, and water) and we need to strengthen citywide projects that focus on that production, on small scales with our neighbors, and on larger scales of our entire city. When we are solely dependent on a large supply chains for our daily needs, then we are beholden to them and it’s virtually impossible to see a larger picture, about how these systems exploit the environment and many different forms of human labor.

6) Do you have any advice for visitors to WetLand? Suggestions about how they should experience WetLand?

There are many ways to experience it. We will be there during the day and people are welcome to come by and stay for a while. Coming to an event is also a way to experience the space while participating in a workshop or attending a performance, and we will have events posted on our website and distributed in print.