Three artists – an artist who has worked with institutional collecting

Basia Irland

Basia Irland, as sculptor and installation artist, as poet and book artist, and as activist, for the past twenty years, has been focused on water. The water that carries, that falls, and transforms life, that writes on sand, that carries disease, that moves the imagination, water in its many forms has inspired much of her work. She is a collector, a collector of water it seems.

As an artist and activist, Irland crosses between the arts, policy-making and the natural sciences, manifesting in all those realms a political and spiritual engagement with environmental and social issues.

She asks: can diverse communities, living along any river or stream, work and celebrate together on a grassroots level to raise awareness about the plight of the world’s waterways?

A Gathering of Waters focused on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, which flows out of Colorado, through New Mexico, and into the huge Chihuahuan Desert which lies between Texas and Mexico. The Gathering Project, begun in 1995, was conceived as a symbolic carrying of Rio Grande/Rio Bravo’s waters from source to sea, to re-establish people’s ties with the river and with each other along its length. A special canteen, called the River Vessel, was passed downstream, between communities and from hand to hand. Small water samples were added from each community as many people extended a hand upstream, received the Vessel, added their own contribution of water from the Rio, wrote in the Log Book, and passed these along to another person downstream.

People travelled with the River Vessel and its accompanying Log Book by a huge variety of means of transport including horse and hot air balloon all the way to the sea. People who lived half an hour apart but had never met, encountered each other through this project. And each community confirmed again their connection to the Rio.

The point of the gathering and passing of the water was to restore symbolically a natural function of the river and generate understanding, enthusiasm, and a sense of continuity and a mutual understanding of riverside communities. The aim was to be a celebration of the great river and its cultures.

The Gathering Project took its own time. And when it finally arrived at Boca Chica there was a huge celebration. Such a ‘gathering’ could conceivably be carried out anywhere in the world, along any river.

The vessel used to carry the water

This piece in this picture below is a portable sculpture constructed to hold research and objects generated by the Gathering of Waters project. Made of ponderosa pine floorboards from a demolished Albuquerque church and sealed with piñon pine sap, the sculpture looks like a large, rectilinear backpack, with drawers containing water samples, hydrology reports, logbook, photographs, maps, and a carved wooden book, the ‘Rio Grande Atlas’.

This was used to log information about the project

There have been other similar ‘gathering’ projects, e.g. along the Calaveras River in Stockton, California, and along the Don River, Toronto, Ontario.


Green Museum, [last accessed 22 October 2012]

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