Water Filtration Meets Fine Art at Venice Biennale


Ayşe Erkmen's 'Plan B.' Photo: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV).
Water-treatment plants might not seem to have much aesthetic potential. But Turkish sculptor Ayşe Erkmen is making a splash at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale with an installation that draws in and processes water, then pumps clean, drinkable liquid back into the Italian city's famous canals.The room-sized installation's title, "Plan B," seems perhaps to refer to some kind of environmental backup plan. Though Erkmen has not specifically called the site-specific piece a work of environmental art, some of her public statements support that interpretation. (Erkmen declined to be interviewed by Treehugger due to her busy teaching and travel schedule.) Though she told Deutsche Bank's ArtMag that "the installation isn't supposed to fulfill a purpose; it should exist entirely without reason," she also made a point to note that she had recently spotted "a study on sustainability titled Plan B" in a bookstore.

Purification Plants Used For Disaster Relief
"The 'Plan B' project also criticizes enthusiasm for unsustainable and short-term changes in the complicated systems and structures that surround us," Erkmen said at an Istanbul press conference introducing the project earlier this year.


Ayşe Erkmen's 'Plan B.' Photos: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV).

The artist worked with the company Berkefeld to build the treatment facility, which can supply about 4,000 liters of drinking water per hour. Similar models have been deployed to help people affected by natural disasters or armed conflicts -- the job the "Plan B" machine will take on after the biennale ends Nov. 27. For the exhibit, however, the actual working parts are extended with a labyrinth of pipes in bright, playful colors -- violet for the dirty salty water, red for the first purification stage, green for water clean enough for showering or laundry, and turquoise for the drinking water returned to the canals of Venice.

Coming from Istanbul, another city defined by its waterways, Erkmen says she is always drawn to water. "This is something that is embedded in me. I am not exactly thinking of Istanbul, but what Istanbul offers: the water," she said in a published conversation with Danae Mossman, the curatorial collaborator for the Pavilion of Turkey at the biennale. "When I see any existence of water in an exhibition space... I feel I have to work with that. I cannot do anything else."

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Tags: Artists | Arts | Drinking Water | Exhibits | Italy | Turkey

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