The Darkened Mirror

7 Apr — 27 Aug 2017 at the San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, United States

10 MAY 2017
The Darkened Mirror. Courtesy of San Jose Museum of Art
The Darkened Mirror. Courtesy of San Jose Museum of Art

Our simultaneously abusive and dependent relationship with water has made it an international battleground not only of environmental issues, but also of humanitarian concerns. The Darkened Mirror complements the pristine waterscapes on view in the exhibition Fragile Waters by presenting recent work by international artists who address our conflicted relationship with water today.

From their twenty-first-century points of view, they reveal an essential resource that is no longer merely threatened, but actively besieged: it is a troubling reflection of the contemporary moment. In their videos and installation work, these artists address such themes as water access and ownership in Cambodia; agricultural irrigation in the American Southwest; the ethical implications of desert settlements; river pollution in India; and the physical and political impact of climate change locally and globally. They draw urgent political and ecological debates into dialogue with aesthetics and participation. In doing so, they open a space for contemplation and action.

Vibha Galhotra evoked a classic Hindu myth of rejuvenation in her poetic video Manthan (2015). Her subject is India’s Yamuna River, which rapid urbanization and unregulated sewage dumping have quickly made into one of the world’s most noxious rivers. In Cropped (2012), Dutch artist Gerco de Ruijter highlighted the surprising aesthetic impact of the central pivot irrigation system (a common agricultural practice that marks the land in circular patterns).

He animated still images into a sequence that has a hypnotic and swelling urgency. The exhibition also includes work by Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang (who is one of the artists featured in Documenta 14 in Athens), Danish artist Jesper Just, and Bay Area artist Amy Balkin. In A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting (2012–ongoing), Balkin makes this global threat personal: she invites museum visitors to contribute to her ongoing collection of physical objects from places directly threatened by climate change.