What is a Water Conversation?
At Unfinished Live, at the Shed in NYC, we started conversations about water with a playful spirit.
What is live presence?
We have been talking a lot about advice for artists and art institutions, but how do you create that wow factor for conferences in this new period after many of us (myself included) lived under a rock? Actually, I wish I had lived under a rock instead of inside a Zoom window for the better part of 2 years, but alas I’m not a lizard.
I also need people. I need to feel overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of absolute panic. How lucky for me then, that I got a chance to do so at Unfinished Live.
The whole week, when I got to see so many friends and collaborators in one place (The Shed in NYC), it felt truly like a dream; this quality was of course enhanced by the beautiful work of Refik Anadol who created a horizontal AI data art sculpture we could lay underneath and experience the sublime. I did this with my younger sister and it was heaven.
This is the third year I have participated in Unfinished Live.
The first year we did it as a live broadcast style show,
Year One was a bit more like live a TV show, remote and from the comfort of home.
The event was hosted by Baratunde Thurston and featured so many inspirational people: Nadezhda “Nadya” Andreyevna Tolokonnikova famous as a conceptual artist, art DAO creator, and member of the punk band: Pussy Riot, the Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Unfinished also made this video of me for the show directed by Maya Craig, which I love and still use when I give talks.
But then year two was in person.
It was literally the first time I got on a plane since the beginning of Covid, and it was to go speak in front of 7,000 people. I gave a talk about how “we live our lives according to a moral code, and the time has come for us to code our morals,” (I also include it here as a medium piece). I had a few panic attacks, we all got vegetarian dim sum, a pretty great weekend overall.
You can read the transcript and interviews, and videos of the talks from my segment of the show which includes Claire Evans, author of Broad Band and from the band YACHT, as well as Eli Pariser, an author who works with New_Public.
For year three we wanted to make Unfinished Live a playground for conversations and interactive content.
On a mission to excise anything and everything Zoom-like from our programming, we felt it was important to shift the format from an illuminated rectangle (stage) with the audience in the dark to an interactive workshop where participants could engage and interact with one another. We directed those present, leading conversations and exercises about some of the most pressing issues our world has faced in our lifetime: water.
The speakers’ list was full of many brilliant people:
Our workshop featured The Internet Archive. Rudo Kemper, Nick Norman, Wendy Hanamura, and Arkadiy Kukarkin showed VR pieces and mapping projects created by Dr. Dawn Martin Hill that the Internet Archive supported with development time. (Ohneganos is the name of the project and also the Mohawk word for “water”).
Our group, Talk To Me About Water, is a group of indigenous artists, activists, and scientists. This time, I was joined by Martha Bearskin (yes, my sister, but also head of water data publishing at the US Geological Survey), and Nour Batyne, co-founder of One of Many Studios, who spoke about our project which provides space and resources for people to talk about water in new ways. Britt Pham presented with Nour their embodied land practice.
We all are learning and not one of us knows precisely how the climate crisis will pan out in our near future, but we all know water will be at the center of the story.
Water is so deeply and obviously fundamental to life on this planet that it assumes a huge, monumental status in our imaginations. Which it should! But because of that, when I strike up a conversation about water with most people, they’ll first tell me they do not know a lot about a particular part of the water story. Even water scientists are humble on this.
It is said that “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” It’s the same way with the water crisis — it will be a crisis for all of us one day, but currently, those shouldering the most of this burden are the global indigenous, the water protectors seeking to stop the extraction and pollution of their ecosystems. It feels far away now, but their water is our water or will be soon.
If we don’t listen to them it’s like we’re ignoring a message from the future.
Part of Talk To Me About Water is also bridging that gap for those who are experiencing the water crisis more acutely to hear from them, unfiltered.