Editor’s Letter: Living with Water

Our Executive Director Cameron Shaw introduces a new thematic series, published in conjunction with Erin Johnson’s exhibition at Pelican Bomb Gallery X.

A still from Erin Johnson’s Parts of Your Body are Scattered in Water All Over the Earth, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

I met Erin Johnson, almost a year ago exactly, in Portland, Maine, where she lives. At the time, she was in the early stages of planning Many Thousand Miles Behind Us Many Thousand Miles Before, 2016, the four-channel sound installation that debuted in June on the waterfront of the Maine Maritime Museum and is now part of “Of Moving and Being Moved,” her solo exhibition at Pelican Bomb Gallery X. I had just been introduced to Johnson’s then nascent curatorial project, “A Long Wait,” which would ultimately consist of a series of performances and actions at Fort Gorges, a military-fort-turned-park off the coast of Portland that is only accessible by boat. I immediately responded to how creatively and expansively Johnson was thinking about water both as material and subject in those two projects. And as I’ve continued to learn more about her practice, I’ve found deep resonance in her explorations of the varying relationships between people and places, with water as a constant. In Johnson’s works, collectively, water becomes a metaphor for what we have or don’t have in our lives, or what we feel is slipping away—a channel for communication, a route to safety, a sense of belonging.

People in New Orleans need little reminder of the practicalities or poetry of living with water—we are literally surrounded by it and the various markers of its power and potentiality. And in our national headlines today, we are all confronted by its importance to the security and well-being of diverse communities throughout the country—as they struggle with tremendous drought or flooding; access to clean water and the imminent threat of contamination; and changing sea levels and coastal erosion. As we close out 2017 and the final weeks of Johnson’s show, we’ll turn the pages of our Art Review over to thinking about how we live with and learn from water. Our writers will cover everything from the ways artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Xaviera Simmons, and Alexis Rockman use water as inspiration in their practices to the direct actions cities—like New Orleans—and activists are taking in response to pressing issues of water management and human rights. The end of the year is always a time for reflection, so we will also be highlighting articles from Pelican Bomb’s first five years in which writers and artists offered interesting perspectives that we’d like to revisit in this ongoing conversation.