Water, data, art!

Exhibition: American Arts Incubator Photos courtesy of the US embassy

Scott Kildall’s map of Bangkok has bundles of fine electric wires criss-crossing, tangled around small water flasks.

The mysterious object placed on a table top, above a loudspeaker, mesmerises and draws in viewers on the 5th floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Sounds of varying tone and intensity can be heard, but there’s little chance that one would guess on the spur of the moment what exactly is causing them.

The American artist, who has just concluded a one-month stay in Bangkok, has yet to visit the capital’s historical monuments and tourist attractions. What he did spend his time touring were the city’s klongs, from which he collected water samples for his work.

Kildall came to Bangkok taking part in the American Arts Incubator programme, a project by US embassies in partner countries using new media and art to resolve social issues with local communities.

“Water is life, but water is also death. It can cause disasters or carry diseases,” Kildall says of his interest for the topic, recurrent in his works.

“Waterways get polluted. But they can also be cleaned up. It’s a process that’s reversible,” he adds.

Indeed, in recent years, most of Bangkok’s klongs have become more like sewers than traditional waterways.

Kildall, a new media artist working with technologies, used particles and metals found in collected samples to create his installation.

Metals have varying degrees of conductivity when connected to an electric circuit and different sounds are created, depending on how polluted the water samples are, he explained.

By combining hard, scientific data with the artistic form, Kildall hopes to convey facts and raise awareness among locals.

“Art has the power to reach people in ways that news articles on policies or political discussions about health and environment can’t,” he argues.

During his stay in Thailand, Kildall also conducted a workshop with 20 volunteers, using physical visualisation, storytelling and social experiments to explore the diversity of the klongs as well as reveal their pollution level.

The resulting works not only deal with the water pollution itself, but also explore communities’ relationships to the klongs, their customary practices, habitat and urban policies put in place.

Probably the most visually telling installation is the mural composed of worn-out, dirtied T-shirts hung on the BACC’s wall. Volunteers asked community members to dip their clothes in the canal before exhibiting them.

While scientific experiments and facts benefit from the use of the artistic form to highlight results and phenomena, artists themselves may find working with data a pleasurable challenge.

“Data forces you to work with constraints, at the same time as it gives unexpected results and surprises,” Kildall says.

The exhibition is on view at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.