Water is considered mineral if it has an origin that is deep, protected and uncontaminated, bacteriologically pure at its source, with constant chemical characteristics, salutary, bottled at the spring and above all not subjected to any treatment of a chemical nature. Only a few “chemical operations” are allowed such as, for example, adding carbon dioxide to make it sparkling or removing excess iron present in the water by adding oxygen. This is mineral water. Put like this it seems so simple, yet this mineral water has some notable differences to that which we use every day, so-called tap water. This is water that has been made drinkable, disinfected by law, but above all “conducted”. Rome benefits from excellent tap water that comes from a deposit and travels eighty-five kilometres from Peschiera to the Capital. The outflow from the aqueduct is forty percent. Of course this is nothing compared to the recent scandals, but this too is a small scandal. Apparently water seems to be a simple product, but in reality it has a very complex chemical matrix. Because of this, any chemical treatment meant to improve it can end up worsening it as what is added creates a reaction that can even have dangerous effects. For example when in drinking water, that must by law be disinfected, you add chlorine or rather sodium hypochlorite, which though a disinfectant is above all a salt, if a mistake is made when adding the dose, being as sodium hypochlorite when in contact with water creates sub-products called chloroform and bromoform, the risk is that of making people drink water that is not good for you and if indeed we look at the chart by the IARC, which is the International Agency for Research on Cancer, we realise that these are possible carcinogens. On the basis of that empirical observation and on certain analyses carried out with the apparatus we have today, based on a European law naturalized more severely in Italy, we find elements at “nanogram” not “microgram” level. Mineral companies began making steps at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the 20s and 30s there were adverts in certain magazines being as television didn’t exist. We bottle water in secure containers, with a nice design but made for nature. Around mineral water there is a concept of ancestry because water comes from the sky, from rain, from melting glaciers and then penetrates the earth passing through the canals it finds in the rocks, “percolating”. As such, drop by drop it accumulates in a deposit. The water we bottle today has been there for thirty years. That is why it is bacteriologically pure. Let us start, therefore, firstly from the ancestry of the product and then worry about industry. I think however that the reason, the sentiment, the fantasy and the creativity that we put into our work is the same that the artist puts into his/her expression.
The broad solvent is water.
So vague and potent that there exists no formula.
The formula of water does not exist.
At once and just enough.
That stops the fish existing in the tank.
But just add a little water
So the fish can be saved: what?
What saves the fish and the sea in the tank?
Perhaps it is good to know that waters, particularly those that have a denser connection to the creation of the world, can produce their own salt when distilled a number of times, or rather not boiled and not discarding the first phlegmatic part. Or else reducing them by drying them into a pulp from which said salt can be extracted. I would like to add a fact that can further distinguish alchemical theory from the chemical, though they are both vague, given that the only true answer is concealed by the facts: chemical water H2O does not exist and cannot exist in nature and, probably, may not be drinkable. In fact water, chemically speaking, is an exceptional solvent that not only dissolves many kinds of physical substances found in powder form but, immediately, the gases that are in the air, the very ones that we breathe in our atmosphere. Therefore, the true formula of water is ever changing, it is not tangible nor, as such, is it imaginable. I would like to add that a fish placed in artificial, or rather chemically reproduced, seawater dies if nothing natural is added.
I fell in love with some public toilets from the late 1800s in Berlin that were beautiful octagons and I sensed that the public toilet is a place, or rather an emblem, of the level of civility of a society. For example, when I visit a city, before going to see the cathedral or the market, I ask where the public toilet is. I go and see it and I seem to understand more from that than from the altar or whatever they sell at the market, or at least it helps me understand just as much about the society, the place or the people that live there. This love for public toilets comes also from the fact that I was, and still am, unable to get over the fact that we waste around twenty/twenty-five litres of drinking water every time we flush the toilet.
My idea was to create a drinking fountain, a water source to make drinking water of superior quality. Obviously the theme of water is very important, I am interested and it has been the centre of several political, territorial and artistic discussions. What I concentrated on was the theme of drinking water in London and how to transform it into quality water because official sources recognise that the tap water we drink in London goes through canalization up to seven times, more or less, it is purified with chemical substances and then recycled. This means that the quantity of chlorine present in the water depends on how close it is to the spring it comes from as well as on the trasnportation of various chemical and organic elements that it has picked up during consumption and that have remained inside. For these reasons no one much wants to drink that water, also for the levels of calcium and chlorine present. Subsequently I started studying how to transform this water into spring water, freeing it from this dross. I worked with a chemist and I began my research with which I came to discover wonderful characters such as Victor Schoeberger and Masaru Hemoto, mentioned by Maura earlier in Memory of Water. They are all theories, and not only, that I employed in my alembic that is this sculpture installed in the Whitechapel Gallery in one of the halls used for meetings, conferences, courses and which is also available to the public and to the people who work there. I was able to find these materials and then I translated them into my piece. All the forms I use – curves and materials like glass, copper, terracotta that allows the water to breathe – were suggetsed to me by Schoeberger. The water comes out through a spiral copper tube and then drops into two glasses containing a magnet that produce a vortex that energises the water. Then at the end of this process the water we drink is “positively charged”, energised and purified.
In what you have said up to now there is always an element that is effectively physical, political, anthropological as well as obviously poetic and linguistic and that is something that is strictly tied to our everyday life such as, for example, water; the right to have healthy, clean water or to be able to recycle dirty water. Often the difference between civilisation and barbarity, between development and underdevelopment is precisely the access one has to a water source or the possibility of having water available for preparing food. We live in a society based on the idea that water is infinite, inexhaustible, but when we realise that that isn’t true tragic, often unsolvable problems arise. When chemical and radioactive pollution makes sweet water sources, the lands depopulate and all form of human life vanishes. There is a fixed idea of distance between the human and natural worlds that guarantees space to both, but in reality it doesn’t work like that. Space is given by cultural and natural forms and it is we who establish if there is a need for purity and quality.
Water is the element that goes forward. It is life that precedes and that deletes the traces that have been created in order to allow others. This ignited an obsession for me which is that of writing and water. Writing and water are at the origin of our being, in that humankind is born around water and signs, around writing and the ability to create form. As such, putting together these two originary acts seemed to me would be able to create an emotive intensity that is what interests me in my work and it is a theme I have returned to here at the exhibition in the MACRO.
We have come close to the abyss in thinking of water as an “element” since the first scenes of our imaginations were composed. It is not a case of water being directly attaining to the idea of life, of becoming in short the carbon paper of insistence with which nihilistic thought lingers still today. It may seem much, but it is true. Coming here I reflected on some readings. I thought of Zoar, of Genesis and the Torah above all. The waters part twice if we look back at the Scriptures, while today the most familiar image in the sense of symbolic, imaginary transmission is “the idea of continuity”, something that runs a course for a certain period of time because it then enters in an area that will never ever return it in that it plunges into the void and it will never rise again. This is the archetype that remains and it has been and still is one of the elements that most nourishes art in the sense that they continue to produce that sentiment of desire that is the spring of certain attitudes, even literary.
“Where there is water, life can be active in the substance; where there is a lack of water, this possibility ceases. Water exists as an element of the living and whenever it can, it snatches life from death. It is the great healer of every illness that is manifested in a loss of equilibrium. Water always yearns for an equilibrium that is full of life, never for a stable equilibrium in which life would be extinguished. Everywhere water is a mediator between opposites, which are intensified where it is missing. It gathers the contrasting, the separated, continuously creating something new. It dissolves hardened forms and brings them back to life. In itself water remains chemically neutral, still it connects with something when the solid overly opposes life. Water wants nothing for itself, it lends itself to anything and it never questions the figure it is to assume when used by a plant, by an animal or by man. It fills them all with same dedication. It always “renounces” and once it has finished its activity of mediating it retires in order to be available for new creations and mediations. As a pure being, it can always cleanse, refresh, heal, strengthen, invigorate and purify all other beings (…) “Water the element of altruistic contrast, of passively existing for others, its existence consists therefore of being for others (…) It is its determination to not yet be anything in particular (…) Water does not shut itself away from light as the solid body does, it remains clear and transparent; It reaches the fullness of luminous possibility in the simple play of colours of the rainbow. It is the altruistic mediator of the impressions of the visible world to the eye, those of the audible world to the ear. Water constitutes for man and for animate nature not only the basis of corporeal life; what for man can be the end of its spiritual development, we find prefigured as in a great painting in the quality of water.” From “Sensitive Chaos” by Theodor Schwenk, Arcobaleno, Oriago, Venice 1992; pp.96-97
The chemical formula for water H2O doesn’t mean anything, so much so that mineral water does not have this formula but is full of other things. “Water is fundamentally the earth’s fingerprint”. There are no two identical waters in nature; each one is different. Deep down, if you think about it, we are born in water, amniotic fluid is water and our bodies are seventy percent water. In children it is up to eighty percent.
I find that Mario’s stimulus is very strong and moreover I believe that he is drying up into a sort of post-ecological discussion, or rather the artist is giving an ecological cue which the industry rejects and this seems to me the wrong path to take. The path that you are instead taking is that of “cross fertilisation”. The almost vexed position of the artist and the entrepreneur is very interesting, in which the artists throws a “very distant line” and the man of reality says that “apart from a certain range, physics prevents you”. What you have said is beyond reality. In reality this is the function of the artist: he must go beyond what is real and possible or what has been possible up to that point. The very strong stimulus that this encounter has given us, I myself am fascinated by both those of you who I had never had the good fortune of meeting earlier and by the depth of reflection and all this cannot be declined to the reflection of just one product or project. What I find truly fascinating is in reality that, based on these stimuli of such high level, the very perception of the object which we are talking about in this encounter is put into discussion. This time it is water, the last time it was wine and perhaps next time it will be plastic. We are reflecting upon water itself and from this everything can arise; a new type of communication, or approach and distribution, but this is not an immediate problem. My problem is that of taking water from its physical and commercial confines and giving the artist complete information that can be useful in making sure that an artistic stimulus is transformed into, for example, an object. The very important observation made at the beginning of the twentieth century on this beautiful object – the purifier – which Annie Ratti too spoke about, today however is no longer valid because there are some certain substances in the water which were not present in our rivers or sewage before. I would like to confirm my great appreciation for this stimulus of the highest level and invite you all to appreciate the possibility of confrontation. Moreover, in my opinion it is necessary to assess on one hand the total absence of limit and on the other the presence of the limit itself as a stimulus to advance this reflection on very important themes.
I have listened with great interest to all these interventions, but I have to make a comment on something which nobody has mentioned: that “water extinguishes fire”. I say this because the in August the Baruchello Foundation was surrounded by a very dangerous fire that burned around one and a half kilometres of pine trees in front of our offices and we were there going at it with buckets until the firemen arrived an hour later. Never before that moment have I desired water so much.