Water is a fundamental aspect of our very existence. It permeates through every piece of our lives—it lies in our food and drink, it is the driving force behind our hygiene, it makes possible the creation of nearly all of what we have in our possessions, and it flows within our very own bodies. Yet, it is something that many of us take for granted, as access to clean drinking water is becoming more and more difficult as pollution and waste increase. More than one billion people on this planet do not have access to safe drinking water. As something that is so valuable to every single human on this planet (and every single living organism, too!), water should be a universal human right. Instead, it seems as though access to safe, clean drinking water is more and more something for the elite to enjoy.
Water has always been something I have been fascinated by (in many respects—its fascinating physical and chemical properties, its implications for society and beyond, its role as both a creator and destroyer), and I couldn’t help but be drawn to the Spanish art project called, “Drinking Water Running through the Streets” (“Agua Potable Corriendo por las Calles”). Created by the Spanish art collective Luzinterruptus, this collection of pieces seeks to draw attention to the fact that, over the last three decades, more than half of the public water fountains in Madrid have become destroyed, broken, or unsafe to drink from. In response to this problem, the anonymous Spanish group transformed four of the decommissioned fountains into beautiful and glowing versions of what they used to be like. Over the course of four months, the group collected more than 200 empty glass bottles of Infatrini (a formula given to underweight babies), cleaned them, tinted them blue, and illuminated them to draw attention to the city’s water access problem.
While this specific project is confined to the city of Madrid, it certainly calls to mind the plenty of other environmental injustices that reach across the globe with regard to access to drinking water. Last semester, I took an economics class at Pomona College called “Water Resources Economics and Management” that highlighted many of these injustices. One issue I learned about in the course that comes to mind is quite close to home for me—the lack of safe drinking water in the Salinas Valley. The Salinas Valley, a hugely important source of the produce that we eat, is the producer of so much food for the world. Yet, one in 10 of its residents that rely on groundwater are at risk for drinking water that exceeds the nitrate standard—a result of the massive fertilizer inputs on the land in that area. It is horribly ironic that those who provide so much to the world are not reaping the benefits of what should be a universal human right—access to clean drinking water. This is just one of many instances around the globe in which access to safe drinking water is limited.
And I guess this is what makes the piece, “Drinking Water Running through the Streets,” so powerful for me. While the artists’ intention was likely focused on the issue of water access in Madrid, it has evoked a problem that exceeds far beyond the boundaries of the space in which the piece was created. As our class project has progressed, I have gained a greater appreciation for the power of art to speak to its audience in ways that vary from person to person and can get you to think about so much more than just the piece before you. Luzinterruptus’ work is beautiful and powerful, and I hope that, as both an example of environmental justice artwork and trash art, it continues to provoke the minds of audiences in Madrid and beyond to think about the problem of clean water access.