There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
-David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water"
The most vital and extraordinary parts of our world are often the most familiar—phenomena that are rendered invisible by the fact that we are fully and regularly immersed in them. Like the fish in David Foster Wallace’s parable “This is Water,” we often take for granted the role that water plays in our lives, and the life of our community. The story of Grand Rapids can be told entirely through the central role of water in infrastructure, industry, public health, art, and recreation. Think/Tank is a place to rediscover the story of Grand Rapids, and to understand it in regional and global contexts.
Think/Tank is a space for the hands-on research, education, and overall enjoyment of water in all its states. This institute allows artists, scientists, and the public to explore linkages between geology, meteorology, biology, chemistry, art, history, and daily life, using water as a common medium of research and expression. The institute centers upon two contrasting experiences of water and weather, one very controlled and the other in a constant state of flux. The first of these is a series of three inhabitable vitrines in which H2O is experienced as solid, liquid, and vapor; steam supplied by the Kent County steam heat network is run through a microcosmic hydrological cycle. These vitrines sit adjacent 54 Jeff’s Great Hall, re-envisioned as an impluvium that harvests rainwater and snowmelt from the roof, creating a dynamic and unpredictable space that experiences periods of flood and drought. Narratives of the history and future of water are subtly woven into this experience throughout the building and landscape.
The global village currently faces myriad hydrological challenges: climate change, catastrophic weather events, rising sea levels, and alternating flood and drought conditions. While Grand Rapids’ location in the middle of the Great Lakes basin may insulate it from some of the effects of these events, the historic flood of spring 2013 served as a reminder of the city’s deeply intertwined relationship with water. As we swim upstream in the face of these challenges, it is imperative to remain conscious of the medium in which we live so that we may celebrate and protect it.
Collaboration with Cal Poly student Matt Catrow (B.ARCH '16)