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Food Water Life

Arts & Culture | October 22, 2012

The “Food-Water-Life” exhibit at the Tufts Art Gallery approaches social issues from multiple angles with physical models, artistic dinners, and sketched drawings. The artists, Lucy and Jorge Orta, do more than make art; they advocate for a cause. Each display employs simple imagery to evoke visceral responses in the viewer. The exhibit speaks to food and water waste, as well as the woes of overpopulation and climate change. They use poetic metaphors to highlight social problems, blurring the line between art and practicality while repurposing modern art as a tool to reach a broader audience.

Stepping into the gallery, all ears are met with the eerie sloshing and bubbling of the first piece. The structure itself, occupying sixty cubic feet, captivates the eyes. A metal frame appears to be built around a bare, wooden canoe suspended mid-air. Surrounding the natural canoe, the Ortas have placed first aid kits below, filtration tanks to the left and right, and isolation gloves above. None of these fixtures touch the canoe, allowing the boat, a pinnacle of natural beauty, to stand out. The rest of the structure exudes a sense of clinical examination. The sterile gloves and first aid kits are reminiscent of surgeons peering over a wound, mystified.

The piece gives viewers perspective and a renewed sense for nature. They see human society built around nature, deliberately circumventing its safeguards. But the viewers also recognize the environment still at humanity’s heart. The piece simultaneously raises awareness and incites action: society, now distinct from nature, must undo the damage it has done. The artists assert that this healing begins with ‘Water,’ the title of the piece. The soundtrack of gurgling water in the background, with a sprawling network of tubes creates one message— purification. The complicated, overlapping pipes function as an inefficient water purification system, demonstrating society’s indirect approach to environmental issues. The piece wills viewers to see nature as part of humanity and compels direct action to salvage it.

The next form of artistic activism masters multiple media. Sketched onto fibrous, torn pages, “Antarctic Village” uses pencil and bold colors to create strong contrast. Set on the international no-man’s land of Antarctica, this scene depicts myriad tents sewn out of national flags from around the world. Interestingly, none of the flags are drawn correctly. The blue of the United States is replaced with orange, and various European flags are irreparably blended together. The plain white background emphasizes the conclusion that nature formed all of us. The piece pushes the beholder to examine national identity, capturing the artists’ desire for a universal passport. Like “Water,” “Antarctic Village” advocates for social change through art. It asserts a world in which an individual can travel freely from country to country, where distinctions of borders and nations pale against the unity of nature.

The presentation combines the concrete with the abstract, and the minimal with the complex. The exhibit is both multisensory and static. The bold structure tells a story of war between nature and humanity. Yet, it is also the solution. We must stop looking at ourselves as sanitized lab technicians perfecting nature from the outside. Instead, we should accept our part of nature, and treat the environment as we would our own body. On the other hand, bold colors sketched on a white page depict human struggle: the battle of diversity and the need for universal acceptance. The exhibit communicates that, born from nature, we are all worthy of the same rights. We must pursue a universal identity. Through their art, the Ortas compel the opening of borders. Lucy and Jorge Orta’s “Food-Water-Life” utilizes art as a medium of communication, allowing for interpretation and advocating social solutions in a way that traditional media cannot.