It sparkles and shines; it absorbs light, and it casts light back with a unique, effusive clarity. Water is omnipresent. On a planetary scale it overwhelms us – it fills our oceans, weighs down the air around, wears the earth beneath our feet down and away into plunging gorges and vast canyons, and coats that earth again in crystal ivory when the air and earth turn frozen. On the microscopic scale it finds its way everywhere, dissolving and diluting, breaking nutrients down and conducting them onwards to feed the cells of plants and animals.
This elemental blend of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen serves as home for countless species of organisms, ranging from the largest to the smallest forms of life on the planet. Because water can hold and carry things both living and lifeless, its purity varies dramatically, along with its best possible uses from one source to another.
Evaporation of water acts a magic cleanser, leaving solid impurities behind as the pure moisture is drawn into the skies, re-gathered in clouds and re-distributed across earth and ocean with the help of global air currents and crashing storms. Water’s immense power is central to local, national, and international political scuffles and decision-making processes. It has molded and will only continue to mold geography both physical and political, and, with it, the history of human life. Social systems and customs are intimately bound up with the availability of water, and there is no economy on earth that does not leverage its value or suffer from its scarcity. The physical record of water’s changing impact over the centuries and millennia often are found concealed underwater, in soil, jungles, and caves, luring anthropologists, just as journalists and storytellers are drawn to the fascinations of fire, flood, and hurricane, and the opportunity to weave new tales from the devastation and prosperity water can bring. Its influence in language, music, art, theater, and ritual ceremony and custom is nearly endless – think of Sumidagawa in classical Noh theater, of the rain dances of indigenous cultures worldwide, of Moby Dick or Rusalka (or The Little Mermaid!).
Water is the fundamental shapeshifter. It reflects color, catches light, flows, and freezes. Even as it turns predator to the unwary, it becomes artistic prey for photographers, filmmakers, and painters, seeking to capture the fleeting, spellbinding truths it contains, casts back, and carries away.
Text adapted from: https://magazine.libarts.colostate.edu/article/water-as-science-and-art/
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