Symbols are absent from the pragmatic water purification projects undertaken by Viet Ngo. Despite the large-scale engineering feats that distinguish his corporation, Lemna International, aesthetics matter to him.
Symbols are absent from the pragmatic water purification projects undertaken by Viet Ngo. Despite the large-scale engineering feats that distinguish his corporation, Lemna International, aesthetics matter to him. Ngo’s attention to the aesthetic components of his functional projects involves attending to how his large scaled works will be viewed. “Because I make big work, I consider the visual quality from a higher perspective. From the ground, you can’t see it all. You have to be on top of it. You shift the vocabulary. Now we need aerial perspective. This is a new thing for artists to look at. If you work on a tremendous scale, you need to see the work from the air. I try to imbue the projects with beauty from above.”38
a. Consider the water symbols represented below. Identify the visual perspective conveyed by each. Is the water, as it is represented by the symbol, seen at eye-level, from above, or from below? Is it close or far? Large or small?
Water resource management symbol:
b. Water has inspired the creativity of Viet Ngo, and many other renowned artists. Five are identified in the following text:
– David Hockney frequently depicted a very contemporary version of water. It appears in a suburban pool in the back yard of a middle or upper class family. One can imagine that this body of water is laced with chemicals and pumped through filters to remove all forms of life.
– Viet Ngo also engineers water to purify it, but his methods and intentions do not coincide with Hockney’s because his goal is to remove chemicals, not add them, and return water to the cycles that sustain life on earth, not isolate it from its ecosystem.
– Yun-Fei Ji applied a 2,000 year old art tradition to the recent incursion of industry upon China’s waterways. This involved reversing the symbolic associations of water to portray the environmental disaster caused by the Three Gorges Dam. Water is a Taoist symbol of fluidity, adaptability, coolness of judgment, and gentle persuasion. Rivers and streams are thought of as the Earth’s arteries and blood.39 In Ji’s scroll painting, water seems too contested to inspire idealistic poetry, calligraphy, and art, as it had done for thousands of years.
– Hans Haacke‘s Condensation Cube focused on water’s perpetual responsiveness to fluctuating environmental conditions. Within his cube he encapsulated water’s millennia-old, planet-wide morphing from drip, to dribble, to puddle, to mist.
– Tue Greenfort conveyed water’s current, politically charged meanings by reinterpreting Haacke’s Condensation Cube. In 2005 he created BONAQUA Condensation Cube, demonstrating that water had ceased being a plentiful, neutral substance that existed in the public domain and had become commoditized, commercialized, and consequently politicized. Bonaqua is a popular brand of bottled water sold by Coca Cola, a company that is associated with waste and polluting consumer practices. Coca-Cola caused a scandal when Bonaqua table water, which is bottled and packed in Southern India, depleted local wells to such an extent that the local residents were required to drink water that was shipped in. Greenfort performed an invisible act to convey this theme. He filled the Bonaqua bottle with tap water.
– Bright Eke‘s water narrative focused on acid rain, a substance that embodies water’s double jeopardy because the petroleum industry pollutes water and then profits from its degradation by increasing demand for the petroleum-based water packaging. His umbrellas and raincoats provide incriminating evidence of the industrial causes of water pollution because they are fabricated out of discarded plastic water containers and transformed into ‘shields’ that protect against the hazards of rainfall.
Choose one of these five contrasting approaches by artists to the topic of water and compare their artistic strategies and their artistic goals to those employed by Viet Ngo.