Water water everywhere

Latest MOCA exhibit explores our fascination with source of life

In a way MOCA Calgary’s latest exhibition H2O is about one piece: Julius Popp’s “Bitfall.”

The work large enough to be seen by drivers as they pass the gallery on Macleod Trail is a tall waterfall machine. The curtain of water drops in the shapes of words which disintegrate as they fall towards a reflecting pool at its base.

“It’s just a beautiful poetic thing and not only is it a technological marvel but it’s a bit of a philosophic marvel just to sit and watch it watch the words go by” says curator Jeffrey Spalding. “I saw it in 2007 and simply I’ve never seen anything to supplant it as being the most interesting thing that I’ve seen since then.”

In fact Spalding has been trying to track down the artwork ever since he first saw it. A scant three months ago he got a call from the esteemed Saatchi Gallery in London offering him a small window of opportunity to show the piece — and so Spalding moved MOCA’s schedule around to make it possible to share the piece with Calgarians and the show H2O was born.

H2O is “about the notion of the feminine and mankind’s fascination with the source of life and water being the source of life and water and waterfalls and clouds being our closest physical manifestation to that majesty” explains Spalding. “From almost time immemorial people have stood at the bottom of waterfalls to look up to contemplate the source of it all.”

That said Spalding affirms that “there’s not a huge thesis here” instead choosing pieces based on the strength of their artistry and not any underlying socio-political messages.

He’s paired “Bitfall” with another imposing piece by Max Streicher called “Architecture of Clouds” inflated white forms that dominate one of the gallery’s hallways within reach of visitors — in fact forcing them to move between and around their contours.

“It’s just so physically playful and fun that you immerse yourself in it and find real value in it” says Spalding.

The Streicher and Popp works are the largest and most attention grabbing but there is a spectrum of other art that rounds out the show. “We have things from the 1850s to present; clearly the contemporary things because they’re larger and more marvellous take dominance but they’re all about the same sort of marvel and wonder” says Spalding.

From 19th century watercolours to a silvery spinnable sculpture by Katie Ohe to photographs by Edward Burtynsky and Craig Richards as well as a video installation by Nicholas and Sheila Pye the exhibition offers many perspectives on our relationship with water.

Aside from the fact you’d be hard-pressed to find many waterfalls flowing freely at this time of year there is a difference between standing by a real water source and standing among artistic interpretations and evocations of water.

“What art does is it takes the ordinary and makes us notice how extraordinary they are” says Spalding. “If you’re just looking at waterfalls as scenery you’re missing it.”

In the upstairs gallery MOCA is also showing another exhibition Selina & the Horse Rescue by Allan Harding MacKay comprising a series of haunting portraits two re-creations of a Toronto Star photograph of a horse rescue and a video work. This show is imbued with an introspective melancholic air.

“I thought there was something about the quietness the introspection and thoughtfulness of this [piece] that was an interesting foil to [ H2O ]” says Spalding.

While Popp’s “Bitfall” might bring you through MOCA’s doors the current will surely carry you onward to art and experiences you might not have expected.