lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Making Lucius Garden 2 – DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2015 at 12:10 pm

ec1_TwitPic440x220The Lucius of the performance, Lucius’ Garden, is Lucius Oille, second Mayor of St. Catharines and first Superintendent of the first waterworks in St. Catharines. He gifted to the people of St. Catharines the fountain that still stands at the corner of King and James Streets, beside the Old Courthouse. On April 2, I had the privilege of shooting video inside DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant.

The video will be used in the Waterworks Duet of Lucius’ Garden, which features a tiny, moving video projection from a performer wearing a small video projector in a harness onto a performer serving as a screen. I previously used this device in performances called short, sweet light, for Greening Niagara‘s 2014 Climate Day of Action and Brock University’s 2015 Social Justice Forum.

Filter No 12St. Catharines is the largest of 12 municipalities in the Region of Niagara. The regional level of government is responsible for water and sewer systems and the municipalities buy the treated water and sell it to residents. Culture staff at the Region of Niagara kindly provided me with an introduction to the Information and Public Outreach Coordinator, Water and Wastewater Services, Public Works, who in turn set me up with DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant staff.

Tunnel cornerI am so appreciative of the Region staff’s cooperation and support of Lucius’ Garden – I’ve been an artist 40 years this May and have often experienced wariness and a lack of respect for what artists do. Not this time! Adrian Rittner, Water Operations Manager, and Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, went beyond my most optimistic expectations. Turns out both of them are history buffs deeply committed to valuing the heritage of their workplace. Adrian Rittner is also a Media Arts graduate from Sheridan College – arts grads turn up in all sorts of places! 50s blueAlthough the infrastructure was built at different periods, much of it has now reached the end of its life. Renovations are currently underway at the Plant and they include aspects of restoration whenever possible. Anyone know of where they can find a replica chandelier for the entrance?

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

The plant stands at the site of the original reservoir and works, and the old Valve House remains. They envision it transformed into a museum; the perfect complement to the Morningstar Mill heritage site next door operated by the City of St. Catharines. The mill of course played a role in the original site selection of the 1870s.

In my last blog post I wrote about recording a reading from the first St. Catharines Waterworks Annual Report – imagine my delight when Jeff showed me in his office photocopies of all the early Annual Reports including that one which forms part of the Lucius’ Garden soundscape!

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

After a long conversation about my work, their Plant and shared values around water, Jeff toured me around the plant. I explained that I am not a documentarian and the purpose of the video is not explanatory, but that I was shooting from an aesthetic pov that sees the machines and water as beautiful.

The plant did not disappoint. It is a warren of sections built in different eras since 1925. The pipes and machines date from various 20th century vintages and the colour-coding (different blues for treated water, sewage water, treatment chemicals, etc.) makes for a chromatic experience. The beautiful Deco font of the signage one sees from DeCew Rd. is a familiar site to me I remember from my childhood.

Yellow Rm LL3 Roof+signCU

I have a style of shooting video that I describe as body-based. The camera is mounted on a monopod and I walk with it, shooting long, single shots on automatic focus. The plant was filled with long passageways, an arrangement that suited me well as I walked through and “looked” around with the camera. (Thank-you Vickie Fagan of Fagan Media Group for so kindly trusting me with the loan of her camera.) I used a camera mounted on my back for a video installation as long ago as 1993, Isadora Speaks, and I started using the monopod during the Niagara Shebang project in 2014.

I strive to take a “soft” approach to the didactic content in my work and I remain committed to my early interest in experimenting with how information is communicated. (That interest is evident in works like Demo Model from 1978.) Around the world and in parts of Canada, especially in First Nations communities, access to clean, safe water is a huge challenge. I give thanks that I live where we tend to take it for granted. I promise not to shove it down the audience’s throat in my work, but water bottled far away and sold by private corporations is a terrible scourge with huge costs to the environment when clean, safe water is readily available. I have a sign on my front door – This Home Runs on Tap Water. (I got it in Kingston at an exhibition following-up on the I Am Water project there.)

P.S. – I am still a ways from my fundraising goal for Lucius’ Garden, please support if you can by clicking here.

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