This summer, the Peabody Essex Museum
(PEM) dives into the dynamic, varied and beautiful world of water to present Ripple Effect, The Art of H2O. Inspired by natural phenomena such as fog, snowflakes and geysers, the 16 artists featured in Ripple Effect explore water in its liquid, gas and solid states as a rich source for creative expression. The exhibition presents artworks in a variety of mediums, including blown glass, photography, clay and sound, and challenges visitors to consider this life-sustaining substance often taken for granted. On view in PEM's interactive Art & Nature Center, Ripple Effect opened to the public on June 18, 2011.
"Not a moment goes by that we don't encounter water. It surrounds us in the air we breathe and fills every cell in our bodies, yet we rarely take notice of it - except when we don't have enough of it or encounter too much of it," says Jane Winchell, curator of Ripple Effect and PEM's Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of the Art & Nature Center. "Ripple Effect invites visitors to experience water as a unique artistic medium and to consider its remarkable physical properties, which also make life possible."
Water is the only natural substance on earth that exists in three forms - liquid, solid and gas. Ripple Effect is organized around these physical states and features artworks, media elements and hands-on stations that let visitors explore the art and science of water.
Compelled by water's movement, moods and life-giving properties, many artists who work with it focus on the liquid state. New England-based artist Janet Fredericks makes drawings directly in bodies of water, recording what she calls "the language of flowing water." For her work Tracings, New Haven River, Fredericks placed a large drape of watercolor paper in the bed of the New Haven River to capture the network of shadows, currents and play of light with lithography crayons. At the nearby interactive Water Shadows station, visitors investigate the effects of light and shadow in water as they generate their own wave patterns.
Artists in Ripple Effect also work with myriad forms of ice, ranging from intricate snowflakes to towering glaciers. Norwegian musician and composer Terje Isungset responds to the sounds natural ice produces by crafting instruments made of glacial ice. In Ripple Effect, visitors watch a video of Isungset at work and listen to the haunting and utterly unique sounds produced by his ice horn and percussion instruments.
Being invisible, water vapor is a challenging artistic medium. But water vapor in transition to liquid - in the form of clouds, fog, mist or steam - has captured artists' imagination. In Ned Kahn's Sea of Clouds, visitors interact with an undulating pool of ultrasonic fog. When air currents are altered through touch and motion, mesmerizing fog patterns morph and transition from liquid to vapor and back again. Visitors can further investigate water vapor at the nearby Fog Chamber interactive, where they can make ephemeral clouds out of thin air.