“TOO SHALLOW FOR DIVING: the weight of water”

an art exhibition at the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio
curated by Christopher Hoeting and Carolyn Speranza

The Too Shallow for Diving exhibition series began with a survey show subtitled “The 21st Century is Treading Water” at the American Jewish Museum in Pittsburgh. Too Shallow for Diving began with my love for the beauty and aesthetics of water as well as an urgency to appreciate the role water plays in our era of global warming. I am struck by the seriousness with which we must regard water—regionally, nationally and globally, if we are to continue life as we know it on the “blue planet.” These words may surprise some readers who, like many of us, have taken the availability of clean air and water for granted.

Too Shallow for Diving brings the age-old conflict between man and nature to contemporary art through an examination of our relationship with water. With a mix of poetry, humor, politics, and environmental discourse, the artists bring our attention to the weight that water bears not only on our everyday concerns but also to the future of our planet. The Ohio River Basin plays a lead role in this exhibition, connecting to waterways both north and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.

Each of the artists in the exhibition has extensive experience working with environmental subject matter and, as a group, has been selected as a snapshot of a blossoming community of activists who work to bring global issues closer to home. The exhibition seeks to shine a light on our region’s water as we sit on top of the largest freshwater reserve on the globe. Thus, we bear a great responsibility to sustain the future of our planet.

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Since the advent of the industrial age, human impact on the environment and depletion of the earth’s resources have never been more apparent than during the past decade. It’s only in the 21st century that the effects of global warming have become undeniable and are now part of public discourse. While volumes have been said about fossil fuel shortages, until very recently, issues about water have been rarely mentioned; water is one of those resources that we take for granted. In addition to pollution, loss of aquatic species, and the demise of coral reefs, there are even bigger problems on the horizon.

Too Shallow for Diving is both profoundly personal and global in its implications. It was from my father that I learned about the weight of water. Quite literally, and with the mind of a physicist, he taught me to observe the curve in each wave as I learned the safest angle from which to dive into the roughest part of the ocean. At the same time and at the same place, Assateague Island, my mother shared the sanctity she found in water. While she read book after book, she listened to the rhyme of the waves and watched the small birds and tiny crabs do their dance of existence at the edge of the surf. Many years later, I read a passage of Rachel Carson’s that brought these birds, the sanderlings, to life for listeners at my mother’s funeral. Both Paul D. and Ada P. Speranza died just over a year ago. I dedicate this exhibition to them.

Paul D. and Ada P. Speranza, circa 1960

Paul D. and Ada P. Speranza, circa 1960

Carolyn Speranza
April 2015

Press for the exhibition:
The Weight of Water in Dayton City Paper
Numediacy, McCombs in River City News

Interview with co-curator, Chris Hoeting
2Shallow4Diving_WOW_press release

Exhibition Checklist: 2Shallow4DivingWow_checklist

Weston Gallery’s Online Archive for this exhibition: http://www.cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery/exhibitions/detail/too-shallow-for-diving-the-weight-of-water

Down the River: Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio

CPSperanza_DownRiver_Weston_002

Sketch for art installation at Weston Gallery

For several years now I have been angry with myself and with my fellow humans. We don’t have what it takes to address the critical issues we face with each other and with the species with whom we share a planet.

Charles Perrow is a Research Scholar and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Yale and a Visiting Professor at Stanford. At his May 2012 presentation at Carnegie Mellon, I asked him point blank, “Of all the animals on the Earth, why are we the only ones who jeopardize the survival of every living creature?” He responded to me, “The human brain is wired for short-term survival. Our only hope lies with a long-term institutional mission, and it’s capacity to expand our vision, one that encompasses how we humans impact the quality of our air and water.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has a reporting system for chemical, solid waste, and oil spills called the National Response Center—a 911-call center for our waterways. Looking at the Center’s reports, there are enough incidents in a year to fill any map, and these are just the ones that get reported. Even with the Clean Water Act in place since 1972, we continue to dirty our water. If we look back another hundred years or so, our waterways, and in particular, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, were sullied by pollution of another kind: human trafficking. To this day, “sold down the river,” implies forcible separation from family, certain hardship, and even death. Water is indeed a vehicle for slavery while the converse, “up the river,” translates into being shipped off to prison.

On my first visit to the Weston Gallery I saw the public library’s “Cincinnati Panorama of 1848.” An interactive map provides a guide to the edge-to-edge illuminated photographs of the Ohio riverfront. Pressing a button reminded me that in 1848, the river separated not just geographic states, but the states of being a slave and of a free man. Having read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” aloud with my family as a kid, I stood there thinking of Huck saying, “We would sell the raft and get on a steamboat and go way up the Ohio amongst the free States, and then be out of trouble.”

During my childhood, Mohammed Ali was the subject of many impassioned conversations in my suburban New Jersey home, as my father greatly admired his integrity and the guts it took for him to object to being drafted into the Vietnam War. Furthermore, one of Ali’s urban legends caught my attention. Shortly after returning home to Louisville, Kentucky with a 1960 Olympic Gold Medal, despite parades and fanfare, Ali was refused service at a local drugstore counter. A white motorcycle gang chased him and a friend out of the store and onto the road. The story concludes with Ali throwing his beloved medal into the Ohio River in disgust. It just so happens that 1960 was also the year my parents married. My Italian father from Brooklyn barely “passed” for white with his father-in-law who was from Georgia. Nothing about race was clear, except that Ali and Huck Finn’s voices started to shape my worldview. That was very clear.

Today I study databases and the news as much, if not more, than paintings in museums.  A glance at Google Maps tells me that Ferguson, MO is not far from the Mississippi. I have the tools to map out toxic dumping on riverfronts—and to illustrate how the senseless deaths of young black men geographically and historically connect with the United State’s slave trade.

This is not a graceful narrative; it’s a combination of things, 1-2-3, which are happening in my world at this time. This is my America.

Posted in Digital Art, Race and Environment, Site Specific Installation, The Weight of Water, Water and Environment. Comments Off on Down the River: Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio
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