Twistings That Shift Encroaching Realities
By Lynn Hershman Leeson 2020-2021
Evaporation is the primary pathway through which water travels. Its cycle travels disguised, from liquid to atmospheric vapor. Transience is it’s solid state. Water is a process, like life, that embraces the gravity of survival by simmering time into a perpetual and recyclable essence. Two projects embodying the conditions of transformation and survival emerged simultaneously, Roberta Breitmore and Water Women. They intertwined like two helixes searching for completion until they found it in each other.
Roberta Breitmore began as a portrait of an era. Aided by the architecture of surveillance mechanisms and culled stereotypes, an extracted witness (the viewer) could participate in her life by sorting through the ephemera that proved her existence during those years of self made radicals and revolutionaries. Access to her history was unavailable until her demise. Roberta’s archive and records, including her discards, became a refractive mirror of her culture. Aided by the distance of time, viewers could reflect on and identify with the accumulated artifacts of her life, experiencing them virtually by analyzing her remains where the biases fluctuating cultural patterns, mythologies and perspectives she endured became evidence of her life.
Water Women began as Roberta’s shadow converted into water drops, that, like her life, were constantly evaporating. Surprisingly, both projects insisted on regenerating during the ensuing decades. Their resuscitations depended on time, as if it was the fourth dimension that led to their survival.
Roberta resurfaced in 1993 as CybeRoberta, a telerobotic internet doll whose eyes held the vision of a global community bred on interaction. In 2003 she emerged as a patient in a plastic surgeon’s office where she was “marked” for potential youthening incisions. In 2018, she traveled to Berlin and used facial recognition and forensics to search for a partner. Over the next five decades the Water Women escaped photographic stillness by morphing into digital systems and in 2020, they became part of a project exploring the solution to a global epidemic of plastic and bacteria-infested water.
More than two billion people on the planet are forced to drink contaminated water. An estimated 502,000 people die each year from the conditions of drinking unsafe water that contains plastic, bacteria, parasites and other contaminants.
Concern for a sustainable planetary future initiated a collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. In June 2020 they announced the engineering of a revolutionary system named Aqua Pulse. This off-the-grid water purification system is portable and uses electricity to purify water at a processing rate of one liter of water per minute. Our collaborative aim is to articulate how contamination due to climate change and human carelessness can be controlled and pollution can be corrected.
This “twist” of science and art, began with the designing the “bacterial activity indicator” to expose both bacteria in degrading plastic. Aqua Pulse kills bacteria. It creates filtration for emergency recovery efforts to clean highly contaminated water. The basic structure of the Aqua Pulse system can be made fluorescent. By creating a fluctuating “glow” it could be possible to not only emphasize the DNA structure within the selected image of the test tube Water Woman, but through colored lights, expose the progressive decrease of toxicity in the liquid.
In Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis, electricity is used as a method of conversion to bring a robot to life. That moment of transition will be suggested through this process. As the Aqua Pulse system fluoresces through the body of the Water Women, plastic becomes visible, yet as it is ignited, it disappears. Six Water Women “slices” are etched onto glass sequences that all of which will frame and encase the bioreactor and Aqua Pulse system.
The first prototype premiers in June at the New Museum. It will use water from local rivers to be filtered through this system into purified drinkable water during the timeline of the exhibition. The alliance of science and art delicately twist into a sustainable method of survival that defies the former threat of a devastating encroaching reality.
This project was made in collaboration with:
New Museum Curator, Margot Norton
Dr. Thomas Huber, Research Director at Almirall, Scientific Advisor and Co-ordinator.
Dr. Richard Novak, Senior Staff Engineer, Advanced Technology Team at Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biological-Inspired Engineering and Aqua Pulse Technology.
Lab Team: Elizabeth Calamari, Martinez Flores, Manuel Ramses
c. hotwire productions llc 2020