There is something prescient about this exhibition. We know how long in advance they need to plan to bring all the artists together and to put up the exhibits. It is often quite a long time. So when I walked into 'Water', which has just opened at GOMA this weekend, there was a sense of perfect timing, of it being of the moment, of it being something that needed our attention right this minute and it was all displayed, indeed built in the gallery in a manner that will take your breath away. Its scope is as always so far-reaching and pertinent.
The starting point tells us plainly that " We evolved in water and emerged from water". Water gives us life and is instrumental in ensuring humanity is kept alive and thriving. It is a force as well as a valuable commodity, yet somehow we have sold it and abused it and wasted it and wanted for it - without enough regard. Now art comes to remind us starkly of its importance, its force and energy.
One of the most visually engaging works belongs to David Medalla, whose work "Rising Tide" is in the main entrance to the right as you come into the exhibition. It is inspired by weather systems and biological processes and in creating this work of art, which uses a detergent, he is expressing the motion of clouds and their ephemeral nature. It's very clever - the tubes contain a detergent which when mixed with air and water foams up and exits the tubes in never-ending columns which sway.
Megan Copes layered midden of cast concrete oysters shells remind us that water has sustained populations over many centuries.
Judy Watson canvas which is entitled "Running Water" is more subtle, more subdued and she worked on it thinking of her Aboriginal roots, natural fibres which appear on her canvas and which when rolled along thighs pick up DNA. The painting is a testimony to the tenacity and survival of Aboriginal people. Their respect for water and waterways, but also a reminder of the force of water and the way sometimes it has been used to control and subjugate people.
Nicole Foreshaw who is a Wiradjuri artist focused on water as a cycle of growth and transformation and she buried slender branches on country in places of special significance, where salts and minerals occur naturally with beautiful and astonishing results.
We come across some familiar work in the form of Tomas Saraceno's biospheres in the gallery entitled "Cycles" and they are impressive, suspended with thousands of spider-like threads in the atmosphere - in their efforts to sustain life.
And who would have expected a bit of an exercise forum with William Forsythe's "The Fact of the Matter", right in the middle of the gallery? He is actually quite happy for visitors to the gallery to use the suspended gymnastic rings to try and haul themselves across the floor. Suspended of course. I did try. Luckily no one was nearby to record the abject failure. The artist here is trying to let us feel what it is like to make ourselves climb higher to avoid the rising waters. We know that sea levels are rising. This is a stark reminder that some of us might manage but an awful lot won't.
My absolute favourite is a work that I saw some years ago and was totally blown away then and seeing it again now has been equally satisfying. Cai Guo Qiang's "Heritage" is a work inspired by the artist's impression of North Stradbroke Island - animals around a waterhole with a ripple of water caused by a drop falling from above. The precariousness of life and the offering of water. Intrinsically interconnected and so precious.
However, the most jaw-dropping exhibit is one where a whole gallery has been transformed into a River Bed- complete with a burbling stream of water that descends the river bed and disappears into the ground with no trace of where it came from or where it is going. It is monumental and stark, beautiful in that starkness but gentle too - as you can sit by the stream in quiet contemplation or climb to the top. This is a creation of Olafur Eliasson who is a Danish -Icelandic artist. He loves big projects and this one was no exception. 100 craftsmen, architects and curators were involved in bringing this stark and monumental landscape to Brisbane.
Even though it is inspired by his childhood in Iceland and is a scene we are not immediately familiar with, we can all understand the similarities of cycles of life and the flow of water or its complete absence, due to drought. Matching the stones to the Icelandic type was a challenge and a half but eventually, after many samples were considered they were supplied from Queensland, Victoria and NSW. This also ensured that more was sourced locally and reduced the carbon footprint of having to transport these elements from abroad.
The last element I will allude to but won't reveal - suffice to say it is cold but happy. Be careful you might miss it. This work will bring a smile to your face and to all of those who see it. We hope that we will always be able to create them in years to come. Carrots are involved.
'Water' is on at GOMA from the December 6th to 26th April 2020.
This is a ticketed exhibition, so there is an entry charge. Click here for more information.