Art Exhibit Aims To Cultivate Awareness & Action To Protect Water

Sep 7, 2018

The art exhibit called “Water Works” opens Friday evening at RedLine Milwaukee.

The show's curator, environmental activist and artist Melanie Ariens, chose more than a dozen artists to explore how deeply water affects our lives.

“I tried to find a balance of artists whose work conveyed a spiritual or emotional connection to water and artists who take a more activist approach to addressing water issues,” she said.

The work of Rina Yoon.
Credit Melanie Ariens

A few of those artists include Rina Yoon, Susan Simensky-Bietila, Eddee Daniel, Valaria Tatera and Cynthia Brinish-Langlois. 

Yoon's pieces were inspired by a close friend's passing. "That moved her to into doing some water work, how our body connects to the water and the landscape," Melanie Ariens says.

Artist Susan Simensky-Bietila's installation includes a kayak, fish and banners.

Ariens says, "The banners are from an event that took place on the Menomonee River protesting the oil trains that go across our rivers and have affected our water dramatically, not only here but all over the United States. There have been oil train explosions that dump into waterways."

But the kayak was Ariens' idea: "It seemed appropriate to bring a kayak into the gallery and serve as a photo booth. You can sit in the kayak and take a picture of yourself in a little protest."

Melanie Ariens inside the installation by artist Susan Simensky-Bietila
Credit Susan Bence

Ariens admits creating "Water Works" was a bit selfish. “I’m putting together a show I’d like to see,” but she adds, “I just feel like having a show like this in Milwaukee is another little piece of the puzzle of all of the good things that are happening around water.“

Ariens, who is artist-in-residence with Milwaukee Water Commons, says her art dabbles in both, “because I do the “shriney” connections to water but then some more activist statements.”

She says Milwaukee Water Commons takes her out into the community. Art-making, she says, is a great outreach tool.

“There’s nothing better than having a kid say ‘I feel like a water leader’ ... You don’t have to wait until you’re a grown-up to express your opinion or take care of the water. You can do it right now.”

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