This Wednesday I had the opportunity to check out the new Royal Ontario Museum new feature exhibition entitled Water in the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, officially opening on March 5th. The purpose of the exhibit was to highlight the history, science and current state of the global water resources in order to draw attention to issues surrounding water scarcity. With a tag line encouraging us to “become stewards of our blue planet” I was expecting the show to focus exclusively on the anthropogenic implications of water use.
Visually the exhibit was stunning utilizing a variety of multimedia installations and cultural artifacts to capture the importance of water as a global resource. The curators chose to focus of the many aspects of water as a life giving substance, balancing it’s implications for biodiversity conservation, human survival and the cultural importance it plays throughout an impressive range of cultures and historical timelines.
As an ecologist, I appreciated that the exhibition concentrated equally on the consequences of the manipulation of water and aquatic ecosystems from both an anthropocentric and ecological viewpoint. The balance helps to proliferate the ideology that the role water plays in ecosystem functioning is just as important for other species as it is to agricultural and hydroelectric operations. Conserving the integrity of these environments preserves our biosphere allowing life of all forms to survive. A concept that we as city dwellers can be too far removed to even consider, despite the fact that we rely on water derived from aquatic ecosystems for our continued existence.
In my opinion, the highlight of the exhibit was a large 1.7-meter sphere in the centre of the first main exhibition hall constructed out of projection screen material in which four projectors created an accurate depiction of earth from space. An ominous women’s voice guides the viewer through the current state of water distribution globally and it implications for the sustainable use of this resource. Not only was this piece visually spectacular, the information presented was easily accessible for people with limited scientific knowledge.
One aspect of the exhibit I felt was lacking was the final room which featured advertisements and installations encouraging the sustainable use of water. Many Toronto municipal ad campaigns promoting the use of tap water instead of bottled and the impact of plastic bags on riparian and aquatic ecosystems were on display. While the devastating impacts of China’s Three Gorge dam was chronicled in great detail, information on what we as global citizens and Canadians can do to have direct impact on water consumption was lacking. Although it is incredibly important to ensure public awareness of ecological disasters and the repercussions of unmitigated water use and the exploitation of aquatic ecosystems, what we can do to help prevent these tragedies are equally if not more important.
Accompanying the exhibition is a series of lectures, panels and debates entitled Water: The Forum. The series aims to critically analyze the political, environmental and social implications of water use highlighting it as on of the most pressing issues of our time.
A particularly interesting event included in the series is The Blue Covenant, a panel discussion including Maude Barlow and Dr. Zafar Adeel (Director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health). Held on Thursday March 3rd at 7pm in the Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery in the ROM and mediated by Mark Kingwell, the panel will focus on the proposed Article 31, an recently proposed addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states all people should have access to clean and potable water as a fundamental human right.
We use water on a daily basis without considering it origin or value. Living in an urban environment it can easily seem harmless to quench your thirst with a bottle of water from your local convenience store not understanding that it takes double the volume of water you’re purchasing to produce the bottle it’s contained in. Similarly, understanding that your ten-minute shower uses 200 liters’ of water is a shocking realization when you attempt to visual a volume of that size. The new Water exhibit does nothing if not brings home the gravity of unmitigated consumption of this life giving resource. Not only is it a beautifully executed exhibit but it’s deeply impactful managing to make the science, history and current and future state of water on our planet as a personally powerful issue for the viewer.