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Water Stories

For the outdoor installation piece Water Stories, I built five low benches that were then installed beside the perennial garden at the Alberta Agricultural Diversification Centre-South, during the arts festival Land Marks ’97 in Brooks, Alberta.

History and location play a big part not only in the language one speaks but in how one uses language – how one thinks of it and understands it. This installation project addressed these issues from my position as a Japanese Canadian who grew up in rural Alberta, in irrigation country, in this place where I first learned about mizu (water). This is a place which quite literally is “Where Water Works Wonders,” as the town saying goes.

One of the benches had a shallow indent or bowl carved into it – a place of possibility, for catching any rainwater that might fall. Another bench had a large field stone – a stone from the field of a nearby farm (the one that I grew up on). Field stones always felt kind of magical to me. I was amazed at how each year there seemed to be new stones that had to be removed. It was as if they literally grew out of the soil, moving up through the earth over time, year after year.

I designed the benches to read like facing pages of an open book and the following text appears on the five benches. Parts of it were carved into the cedar while other parts were silkscreened onto the translucent panels, appearing and disappearing like a mirage upon a prairie highway, depending on the position of the sun and on one’s own position to the bench.

(written on bench #1)

fishing for whitefish
my uncle’s line flew back in a quick graceful arc
the hook grabbing my thigh
the land imprints upon our memories water stories

(written on bench #2)

the thick boards of the family furo
darkened by heat and water
worn smooth by the touch of our bodies
and when the wind decides to blow
fine dust fills my lungs and nose

(written on bench #3)

mizu ga fushigi ni kiku tokoro

(written on bench #4)

felt on my skin
understood through osmosis

(written on bench #5)

I return to this place
where I first learned about water
to “where water works wonders”

*   *   *

Many thanks to the town of Brooks and the Land Marks ’97 committee, especially to Sue Murphy and Pat Hoffman for organizing the event and for the invitation to participate. Also thanks to Merritt Murphy who leant me his camper to park out at a nearby campground during my seven week stay in Brooks for this event; to the E.I.D. (Eastern Irrigation District) office; to the Brooks Library which provided space for me to have a studio/working space during those weeks; and to the Banff Centre for the Arts where I was earlier in residency to build Water Stories. 

One of the unexpected things that happened while staying in that nearly empty campground (it was a bit early for camping season), is that I found myself in what seemed to be a migratory path for songbirds.

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