Christopher Hoeting is an artist and Cincinnati native who has curated several exhibitions here, including two shipping container-based shows in public spaces. He recently co-curated the exhibition “The Weight of Water: too shallow for diving” with Pittsburgh artist Carolyn Speranza at the Weston Gallery. Hoeting was inspired by Speranza’s initial iteration of the “too shallow for diving” exhibition in Pittsburgh in 2011, and invited her to work with him on a site-specific show for Cincinnati. I met with Chris recently to discuss the exhibition. What follows is an excerpt from our interview.
Susan Byrnes: Why is this topic important to you?
Christopher Hoeting: Throughout my whole life I spent pretty much every summer on the Ohio River. My family has land on the Ohio River and we’ve been impacted by flooding. Aesthetically I have been in awe of the river, and had this lifelong love and experience of the river. I’ve seen the power and impact that the river has and how important it is to our lives. Carolyn’s exhibit in Pittsburgh dealt with heavily environmental work, which I was already interested in working alongside, with some of my previous use of alternative spaces and recycled materials and shipping container type spaces, so I started a conversation with her.
SB: How did you select the artists for this show?
CH: Carolyn and I kept revisiting ideas of an environmental show that was of new work. We talked about dealing with regional issues with the environment focusing on water. We started to hash out a second iteration of the show that she had done in Pittsburgh but with a different focus, with fewer artists, with a more regional look, going a little bit more in depth with more complex installations. We only wanted to deal with artists who specifically deal with environmental issues and water issues, so we were looking for artists that that is what they do. They work in environmental activism and they specifically deal with water issues in their work. We brought a few of the key artists that were in Carolyn’s first exhibit, Richard and Doug Harned, Prudence Gill and of course Carolyn as well participated in that show. The water-focused artists of that exhibit also were within the bigger region that we were dealing with, so it gave us the ability to look up into the region a little higher, dealing with some issues that come up there, and some of them have contact points down south. The other artists that we selected…we actually did a selective call for artists, one that was pretty targeted, and we looked for artists to propose a large piece to focus on these regional water issues. We were looking for a variety of issues. We wanted to choose artists that filled in gaps to create a holistic approach and look at what were the environmental impacts of the region with water. What are the bigger water issues that face our region and what are some of the issues that face us particularly locally? The last group that we chose was a little bit different.
SB: That brings us to the Lick Run Project. Can you tell me about that?
CH: Carolyn and I were trying to find a specific issue in this city that was the biggest water issue with the greatest impact. So when she visited, we spent two days meeting with all the surrounding agencies and it seemed that as we met with the bigger agencies they all pointed to the Lick Run and that project.
(Background on the Lick Run Project: While the Lick Run Project benefits the environment, it displaces a large area that makes up the very center of the 100+ year old South Fairmount neighborhood. Here is the project description from the Projectgroundwork.org website: “The Lick Run Project – part of the Lower Mill Creek Partial Remedy– will eliminate about 379 million gallons of CSOs (sewer overflow) annually and ensure that 88% of the flows during a typical year of rain will either reach the Mill Creek treatment plant or be discharged as stormwater to the Mill Creek. The focus of this project is to keep stormwater out of the combined sewer system through a variety of gray and green infrastructure projects across the watershed including new storm sewers, bioswales, stream restoration, stormwater detention basins, bioinfiltration gardens and the creation of a mile-long bioengineered creek. The project will also improve water quality, create new jobs, and provide opportunities for neighborhood revitalization. “)
CH: It’s a really important project for the neighborhood and for the city, and as you go further down, for the region. A lot of money is being allocated. One of the reasons I was interested in it is that these neighborhoods, South Fairmount, North Fairmount, Westwood, Price Hill, all of the surrounding neighborhoods are neighborhoods in our city that have no voice at all, and they have really old histories and have been broken up by poverty and drugs and violence, so here is a neighborhood that we wanted to give voice to. It was really important to me, having grown up on the west side of Cincinnati, and seeing all those stories having zero voice and it was really important to give voice back to it. With this particular piece we wanted to find somebody interested in taking on this project, so we put out a specific proposal that this person would have not only a gallery component but an on site component, and they would immerse themselves in the issue and build themselves in to the neighborhood to find out what was going on in the midst of that. There were a number of proposals and one really amazing proposal presented itself. The project that they (Numediacy) came up with, we couldn’t be more pleased. They made a 45-minute documentary that gave voice to a neighborhood that didn’t have it. It not only dealt with the water issues but it dealt with the social implications of what is happening in the neighborhood, how it’s going to impact the neighborhood, how people feel about the neighborhood, and combined it with the history, with the people that lived in that area.
SB: Do you see the show as a whole with a message or in separate parts?
CH: I think there is a combination. I’ll start with the holistic aspect. One of the big messages holistically is that we in this region locally in the city and in the county and the state and more regionally in the Midwestern area have a great responsibility because we live in the largest freshwater reservoir in the world. There is this tremendous responsibility that we all share being here as stewards to the environment. We look today at areas like California that are in historic droughts that look for something that we have so abundant here. Its going to be important for us to be stewards of that in our environment, to keep that clean and be able to play a large role in how that water is going to circulate to the world. I think that’s an overarching thread of the pieces, and I think what the artists did was look at different issues within that. Carolyn’s work deals with how have the waterways been dealt with socially; they have been used in slave trafficking and human trafficking, and also have great poverty along their banks. What Richard and Doug are looking at is more along the lines of a global warming perspective. They are exploring the idea of the “tipping point”. How many degrees is our climate going to have to rise before it tips over and we can’t go backwards? Roscoe Wilson is dealing with commodification; we have this great resource of water (the Great Lakes) and now that water has been taken into this private marketplace and is being sold worldwide. Who benefits from that? What responsibilities do we have if we start selling it off and pumping it away? (Prudence Gill’s) piece goes all the way down from Pittsburgh to the (lower) Mississippi. She’s looking at it in terms of its great beauty but she’s also looking at it in terms of pollution and power plants. Brad McCombs’ piece is dealing with groundwater issues, focusing on coal pollution, energy and human impact. We’re at a critical moment to speak in unison together to say something important, this is a time to be aware and begin to act, to be aware and start to question and discuss these things. I see this show as an important element to bring voice to these issues so that people can start to think and discuss them, and think about how they relate to them, maybe before we get to that tipping point.