By Jim McCloskey
Given the tumultuous way in which 2016 came to a close, I figured I’d kick off the New Year by being as upbeat as can be about what the future holds for watershaping. Two news stories I’ve followed through the last couple months put me in a suitable frame of mind for this exercise.
First up was the hovering waterfall structure installed by Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in the Gardens of Versailles: On temporary display through the summer of 2016 and now, sadly, gone, it’s a reflection of the fact that there are many inspired, uniquely talented artists out there who see water as a fabulous and perhaps even the ideal artistic medium. (To see it, click here.)
Eliasson’s daring use of water and brute technology entirely altered the prevailing mood of one of the world’s most familiar and renowned garden spaces – an amazing, almost otherworldly accomplishment. But as I see it, his waterfall also capsulizes the bold progress mainstream watershapers have been making through the past 20-odd years and reinforces our desire at WaterShapes to make certain that excellence is recognized on every level of aquatic design and construction
The cool thing here is that Eliasson was influenced in his Versailles scheme by the original plan of the gardens’ architect more than 300 years ago, André Le Nôtre, who wanted to include a grand waterfeature of some kind along the axis of the Grand Canal. This combination of historical gesture and artful audacity is just the tonic I need to think good things about the importance of watershaping’s role – and its future.
I had a somewhat more complex response to the second item on my list of optimism-bolstering projects. In this case, it’s about a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean in which the walls and floor have been tiled in tribute to “Starry Night,” the most celebrated of all the celebrated works of Vincent Van Gogh.
I have to say it’s more of an approximation than a literal rendering of an unsurpassed masterpiece (click here); it’s also difficult to find a view that captures the painting’s spirit this side of a helicopter ride. But what I like – what inspires me – is that the client had the nerve to ask for it and that the tile contractor had the drive and determination needed to make it happen.
When I first saw this, my inclination was to poke around and find out who did the work – but then I decided I didn’t really want to know. Somehow, it seemed preferable to leave it alone out there on the Internet as a hopeful symbol of artistic expression rather than as a project executed by someone lots of us may know.
It’s not what I’d call perfection, but it nonetheless reflects a level of ambition associated with watershaping that makes me happy to be alive.
Flipping optimism on its head for just a moment, I flagged an October story about the fact that being idled for long periods of time has done real damage to one noteworthy Los Angeles fountain, use of which has been severely limited due to California’s drought-related water restrictions (click here).
Specifically, the article discussed deterioration of the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain, long a cultural touchstone in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. (I wrote about it in one of my Travelogues a couple years back – click here.) Originally built in 1940 and fully restored in 1996, the fountain has been operational only during sharply reduced hours as a result of the region’s lingering dry spell.
It seems that some of the materials used in building the fountain have dried out and are starting to crumble as a result of too much exposure to summer heat. The city has announced plans to repair the damage and have things back in ship-shape sometime this coming summer, which is great, but I know this isn’t an isolated story: Lots of fountains are suffering in this same way, and there are no easy answers when it comes to keeping them from falling – literally – on hard times.