Commonwealth:
Water For All

In New York City, it’s easy to take water for granted. Water makes up more than 60% of our bodies, and while it is essential to life, increasingly we’ve come to think of it as a commodity to be bought and sold thoughtlessly. Meanwhile, there is unequal access to clean water in many regions across the country and throughout the world, where scarcity renders visible the substance’s basic vitality to all living things. From wars over water that have taken place throughout Latin America for the past two decades, to the recent privatization of public water in American cities like Flint and Detroit, the effects of fragmented and shortsighted perspectives on water management are stark.

Highlighting the urgency of this issue, two recently acquired portfolios of prints developed by the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, We Are the Storm (2015) and Wellspring (2016), are presented with a selection of materials developed for the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Additionally, a poster production project will run concurrently with the exhibition, with designs addressing related issues printed in editions of 500 on the Museum’s Risograph machine, and available for free to visitors, with a new poster unveiled every two weeks. Social movements have a history of using and altering developing technology to rejuvenate traditional methods of cultural production and communication tools and artists in solidarity with Standing Rock are using traditional printmaking techniques to create iconic imagery which the movement picked up, distributed through social media, and re-deployed not only as online icons and avatars, but also as posters, banners, and t-shirts. By abandoning the concept of an “original work,” the art has become part of multiple, alternative value systems.

Commonwealth: Water For All is the third in a series of exhibitions that features contemporary expressions about water, its utility, and its preservation and consumption in dialogue with the Museum’s long-term display of the Relief Map of New York City’s Water System, a sprawling WPA project commissioned for the 1939-40 World’s Fair. The model traces the system of aqueducts and tunnels that support the flow of water from the mountains of upstate New York to New York City.

This exhibition is organized with Josh MacPhee, co-founder of both Interference Archive and the Justseeds Artist Cooperative.

Interference Archive is a library and social space run entirely by volunteers in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Its mission is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open-stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including exhibitions, workshops, educational visits, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of how people have organized to transform and improve their lives.

Justseeds Artist’s Cooperative is a decentralized network of artists committed to social, environmental, and political engagement. Each year Justseeds’ artists assemble a print portfolio responding to a key social issue that included mass incarceration, resource extraction, anti-war veteran’s resistance, immigration, and gender justice. The environment, and climate justice in particular, have been core concerns of the group. In 2015, the Cooperative collaborated with Culturestrike, a network of socially engaged artists that seeks to cultivate and support political art through a variety of programmatic and educational initiatives, to create the print portfolio We Are the Storm, which paired artists with grassroots organizations and communities building resilience in the face of climate chaos. In 2016, Justseeds released Wellspring, a smaller portfolio initiative dedicated entirely to the issue of water.

In conjunction with Commonwealth: Water For All, Queens Museum has made a donation to the Water Protector Legal Collective, an organization working in partnership with the National Lawyers Guild to protect the sovereign treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and provide legal representation and coordination for those who engaged in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Image: Detail view, Pete Railand, Commonwealth, 2016, Risograph print, 17in. x 11in. Courtesy the artist

Major support for exhibitions at the Queens Museum is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Additional support is provided by Ford Foundation, Lambent Foundation, Booth Ferris Foundation, the Charina Endowment Fund, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, The Kupferberg Foundation, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

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