I am going to venture that the man who has sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures, and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.
Luthur Standing Bear (1868? – 1939) Oglala Sioux Chief
This quote appears in a little book titled Native American Wisdom with photographs by Edward S Curtis, bought at the Phoenix Airport on my way home from Balance-Unbalance 2015.
In many ways my journey was like the title of the conference. I arrived a day late, was totally disoriented most of the time – which happens when I go to the northern hemisphere, though I normally adjust after a few days. Also not much sleep, which also puts me out of balance with the world. There was also the adjustment to a completely different environment and in some ways culture. In my every day life I take time to think, to meditate and to find the inner balance that helps me manage a busy life. There was no such luxury in this week of jet propelled activity. Anyway, these elements may be explored in another post at a later time.
Water was a key theme throughout the conference and it seemed fitting that such a topic be explored considering the dry riverbed country surrounding us. In many ways, it was confronting to acknowledge the water crisis the west and south-west of the US is experiencing, particularly when seeing sprinklers on during the day and green lawns in the suburbs. In Australia, especially in the inland regions, there is a much healthier respect for water these days, even though the level 5 water restrictions are long gone in many parts of Australia.
The politics and ownership of water has long been an issue in many places, though the intensity surrounding water issues is undoubtably increasing. Water is becoming more and more contestable in terms of ownership and rights, as this article titled The New “Water Barons”: Wall Street Mega-Banks are Buying up the World’s Water. On the flip side is New Zealand’s government agreement that the Whanganui River has rights as a legal entity.
The conference had papers, performances and exhibitions, which spanned a number of sites in Tempe and down town Phoenix. There were a couple of keynotes that really stood out for me – Pablo Suarez (Associate Director for Research and Innovation at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre) who got everyone actively engaged in play and Annea Lockwood, a sound artist who has created several sound maps of famous rivers including the Danube, Hudson, and the Housatonic.
One of the panels I particularly enjoyed was focused on remote sensing – Remote Experience of Place. Yolande Harris‘ work in particular stood out for me, as she is exploring some very interesting ways of interpreting and utilising remote sensing data. She states:
My artwork Listening to the Distance (2015) is a two-part project consisting of an audio-visual installation – Eagle – and sound walk – Whale – that explore how we can experience and share distant environments through animal visions, remote presence, and underwater sound. In Eagle, I re-contextualize ocean hydrophone recordings collected from an autonomous vehicle, called a “sea glider”, as it tracks through the ocean recording its environment. In Whale, different voices of marine mammals speak from the ocean into your ear, acting as a remote guide through the desert environment.
Another highlight was a very special performance at the conference dinner by one of the organisers, Garth Paine, who played the flute into a microphone which triggered some beautiful river sounds of bird life from the area surrounding Bundanon in southern NSW.
My new work, Aotearoa Wai: Words For Water, was also part of the event – presented at the Grant St Studios, the finale concert and as part of the Waterwheel Hot Water panels. You can check out the complete documentation here: http://water-wheel.net/media-centre/tag:hot2015
For me the best part of the conference were the conversations and ideas, whether formally or informally presented. Although there were a few people I already knew in this community, there were many who I had not met before, particularly sound artists, who featured very strongly as a contingent at the conference. There were also quite a few artists working with scientific data, which is an area I am keen to learn more about.
One of my favourite works was Bob Vanderbob’s work Fecundity. Bob’s work focuses on the notion of an artificial mythology to reintroduce mythology to the world of industry and technology.
Here is a trailer of the work.
There were many other very interesting events that I do not summarise here, including a workshop titled Rekindlers of Hope by Ilka Blue Nelson (Latorica Studio). This was an intimate workshop where science met art, philosophy and the seen and unseen worlds of human and non-human. On the website the workshop was described as a:
transdisciplinary quest, a re-imagining of our environmental crises as opportunities for transformation toward earth-centred paradigms.
The next Balance-Unbalance is planned for Colombia in 2017.