The sound of flowing water was constant at the opening of the new Handwerker Gallery exhibit last Thursday. The tink-tink of metal clanging together mingled with the quiet rush of water gushing over a river’s edge filled the room. Using an innovative mix of media and classic sculptural techniques, the exhibit inspired new ways of thinking about water’s purpose in life.
“Water Theory” is a collection of three installations by Megan Roberts, associate professor of television and radio, and Raymond Ghirardo, professor of art, that use water as a metaphor and a thematic interpretation.
Co-sponsored by the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival with contributions from the Park Foundation, the series of installations is an annual event meant to focus on the environmental preservation and sustainability through art.
FLEFF approached the couple about making a series of scenes for the gallery two years ago. The married artists have collaborated on their works — media installations and sculptures — for the past 31 years and have traveled across the world, showing pieces as far away as Beijing.
Tanya Saunders, dean of interdisciplinary and international studies and executive producer of FLEFF, said the exhibit exemplifies the goals of the organization — the use of art and multimedia tools with a focus on the environment’s role in life.
“It’s about water as a source of many facets of our lives, not only for the biological but for the aesthetic as well,” she said. “It’s about artistic expression finding its source in water and what it represents for us in terms of necessity and beauty.”
In the first piece, a rainbow of vibrant neon lights is projected onto the floor, moving and pouring over the space to illuminate a stream made of latex masks.
Freshman Kaitlin Peck, who attended the opening reception, said she was struck by the artists’ use of the different mediums to develop such a broad idea.
“It’s completely innovative what they’ve done here,” she said. “Working off the basic concept of water is really cool, and what they’ve done is completely unique.”
The second scene in the exhibit expands on the idea of water as a necessity for life, as it concentrates on the continuity and importance of its flow.
On the floor of the gallery, three piles of glowing white salt sit forming uneven squares. Multiple images of the black shadows of artists Roberts and Ghirardo walking and holding hands glide over the fluorescent white piles, moving in turns across the squares and then disappearing.
Roberts said the inspiration for this piece came about as a form of dealing with the mortality of humankind and the continuation of relationships. Roberts said the piece is especially important to her because the water is meant to be a metaphor for the continuation of the artists’ relationship.
“We were trying to deal with our relationship and immortality,” she said. “There is a continuum, and yet we are also facing the fact that we are not always going to be together.”
In the back corner of the gallery, the final installation glows with flashing color and changing design. Hanging from the ceiling, two large, geometric paper cutouts shift slightly back and forth. Layers of images flash over the paper — a combination of video from the hectic streets of Beijing to the calming waterfalls in Iceland. The vibrant colors bombard the senses at the same time, clanging from the city life of Beijing to the crashing of rushing waterfalls.
Sophomore Christina Bryant attended the opening and said she was in awe of how the installations of water appealed to so many different parts of human perception.
“All of my senses are so captivated that I can’t speak,” she said.
Roberts and Ghirardo said the installations hold multiple meanings and were designed to invoke thought and interpretation, but at its core, the exhibit explores water and environment in life.
“It’s just a deep appreciation of being alive, and when you are moved by things, anything, then you react to it,” Roberts said. “Water is so meaningful to all people all the time.”
“Water Theory” is on display at the Handwerker Gallery through April 5.