Elixir Of Life | McGrath

Elixir Of Life

Issue 8
25/03/2020 | 6 MIN READ

They say that up to 70 per cent of the human body is comprised of water. We evolved in it; emerged from it; and survive thanks to it. Similarly, it is a distinguishing feature of this blue planet; the only home we’ve ever known. 


Until 26 April 2020, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) finds itself flooded with an extensive collection of musings and manifestations from international and Australian artists alike, with H2O as the common thread. 


Two years in the making, ‘Water’ is an exhibition of unprecedented relevance. Conceptually it began simply as an excuse to put Cai Guo-Qiang’s Heritage (2013) on display. The art installation depicts an unlikely congregation of animals, predators as well as prey; ferocious beasts as well as gentle beings, around a single, pristine body of water. The artist describes this moment as one of “religious solemnity” and is interested in representing underlying and oft opposing forces: peace and violence; tension and release; co-existence and competition. Is Heritage a vision of idyllic harmony, or of an uneasy future in which a sole water source remains?


What Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow, Curatorial Manager of International Art for QAGOMA, couldn’t have anticipated when she embarked on curating an exhibition within which to feature Heritage was this: by the time the show would come to fruition, Australia would be drought-ridden and on fire.


Water is an experiential exploration of an undeniably pressing issue, one that has been expertly and eloquently curated to take its visitors on a journey. “I wanted it to feel like this exciting itinerary through space,” says Geraldine. And at that, she has succeeded. The exhibition serves as a reminder of the fluidity innate to human nature. Full of creativity and potential, we are apt at learning and developing new skills in the face of adversity. 


William Forsythe’s, The Fact of Matter (2009), is the penny-drop moment throughout Water for this realisation. A choreographer and dancer as well as an artist, The Fact of Matter is one of William’s choreographic pieces, specifically designed to draw attention to the weight and movement of our bodies. Moving through space by the means of suspended gymnasium rings, it really is just like everyone is learning to swim. 


Although playful in spirit, the challenge represented by The Fact of Matter is very real: in such unchartered waters, how might we learn to move in new ways together, with urgency, agility and care? 


Olafur Eliasson, one of the world’s most notable cotemporary conceptual artists, brings to the exhibition a reminder that water is precious, in the form of his 2014 artwork, Riverbed. An entire room of QAGOMA is imposed upon by a bank of rocks and pebbles, while a tiny stream of water trickles through the landscape of water-rounded stones. Disconcertingly out of place, the setting appears somewhat natural yet carries the sense of threat, as if a catastrophic landslide may have just occurred.  


Immediately outside the gallery the Brisbane River flows, rising and falling with the tides. Locals will recall the floods of 2011: it is hard to imagine this wide river reduced to a fragile stream, but one need not travel far to observe the effects of drought.


In Riverbed, everything we experience is carefully planned. Under the cool grey light, Eliasson seeks to take us into a deeper reality, amplifying our interaction with the world“ our awareness of nature, the flow of time, and the choices we make.


The patterns of how water flows are changing rapidly. At a time in which rising sea levels, water scarcity and extreme weather events“ drought, fire and storm, “ demand coordinated ingenuity and action, QAGOMA’s Water exhibition draws together works by international and local artists to create a central dialogue; a reminder that water is the elixir of life.