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  • Writer's pictureRiver Riders

Touching Hearts Through Arts

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

I am in my office, checking my e-mail messages before I go to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend an Artist Residency program called Being Water at Anima Casa Rural. In the program, we will look at how science and arts may dialogue for water. The program consists of discussing issues from scientific perspective and reflecting through arts including pottery, painting, photography and any other forms of expression.

I click on one of the documents and find an unexpected picture on my computer screen, showing the results of an industrial spill occurred in 2013 in the region. I almost choke. It is a picture of uncountable dead fish floating on the surface of water, almost forming a textile cover. What is the cause? Clean water is now gone and it looks and smells different. What will happen to the lives of many in the region? How about the local fishermen who used to rely on fish in the lake for a living? How about birds and all life that the lake used to sustain? My assumptions combined with the tragedy of fish floating on the surface bring tears to my eyes.

Thousands of dead fish. The article I am reading on the screen estimates the amount of fish that had died suddenly is five hundred tons. Five hundred thousand kilograms of tiny little lives. I am trying to estimate how many fish that must be? Assuming that there may be 20 little fish in one kilogram, that must have been ten million little lives ended overnight. I feel the need to protest with this feeling in my heart. How many times do we need to see a similar case occurring in the world until we do things differently?

As I arrive in Guadalajara, we go to Valencia Reservoir where the accident had occurred. We learn that there was a factory upstream on the creek that was likely responsible for the spill. An old brick bridge is silently standing by having witnessed all that had happened. I feel sad for the life cycle of many that had been interrupted including fish, men, women and children, birds and all the life that Valencia Reservoir had to offer in its own beauty. I see the face of a local woman shining as she sees some pelicans on the lake, and tells us that it is the first year of their return since the spill had occurred. It gives me hope to know that life continues, despite many pauses in its cycle.

During the residency, we shared knowledge about pollution, rivers drying out, water tables going down, agricultural pollution, sewage, oil spills and many other concerns happening all around the world. Among those other issues, I have been still feeling sad for the sudden death of those little lives.

Today, something happened that truly surprised me. Susan Shantz reflected on the death of millions of little fish and created a beautiful art piece.

In Susan’s art, each carefully cut out paper fish hung vertically side by side on a black background, almost like a funeral home that I walked into. Susan’s creation invited me into a memorial unexpectedly and I felt like I had a chance to honour the life of each fish and say goodbye. I noticed that my pain started to soothe away with a gentle balm, something touching my heart, maybe due to sharing pain in community.

It is my last day at the residency. I am experiencing the power of dialogue of science and art for experiencing life fully. Quantity and quality are both indispensable when we think about water. To me, Being Water is about being human with all our relations, respecting the lives of many.

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