California State University, Fresno
2015 Artist Invitational Exhibition

Water:  Resource, Culture, Commodity and Crisis

January 29, 2015 – February 27, 2015

Conley Art Gallery

California State University, Fresno

Essential to the ecology, to agriculture, to health, and to culture, water is at the center of concern in a second year of drought in the San Joaquin Valley and California.  Kate Galbraith writes:  “In recent years, drought has spread across California like a lengthening shadow, sapping farms and fish, fueling wildfires and forcing towns to scramble for extra water supplies lest taps run dry… If current models of climate change are borne out, the spring snowpack in the Sierra, a water source for tens of millions of Californians, likely will have dwindled to a shimmering semblance of its former self. Some of the massive aquifers that underlie the bountiful Central Valley croplands may falter from continued overuse… The Golden State, like much of the parched yet booming West, has reached a crossroads.”

The 2015 Artist Invitational Exhibition examines the theme of water in a broad ecological context.  The Department of Art and Design at California State University, Fresno, has invited leading artists from throughout North America who have created compelling works dealing with issues related to water.  During the exhibition the Conley Art Gallery will present the works of these artists, and the artists will present lectures on their works.  

Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison

Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) have worked for almost forty years to research issues of water in an ecological context.  Their work involves extensive study, community discussion, proposals for solutions, and a mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context.  The Sacramento Meditations Project in 1977 began with six months of research in the Berkeley Water Resources Library.  The three-museum show that resulted from this work included street posters, billboards, and graffiti.  The work traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Art and to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.  The work illuminated water conditions that were not public knowledge at the time, and advocated a bio-regional approach to Central Valley water issues.

The Harrisons have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues among others.  The current work, Sagehen:  A Proving Ground, is a projected 50-year research project that studies the effects of global warming, drought, and species adaptation, at a 9,000 acre site in the High Sierras.  “Our work begins when we perceive an anomaly in the environment that is the result of opposing beliefs or contradictory metaphors. Moments when reality no longer appears seamless and the cost of belief has become outrageous offer the opportunity to create new spaces – first in the mind and thereafter in everyday life.”

A third work in the Conley Gallery exhibition,  The Bays at San Francisco Become a 400,000-acre Estuarial Lagoon When The Oceans Rise About 3 Meters, examines the future possibility of a large estuarial lagoon in the central valley and its implications for biological adaptation.

The Harrisons are Professors Emeriti at the University of California, San Diego, and research professors at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Isabelle Hayeur

Born in Montreal in 1969, Isabelle Hayeur is recognized for her photographic montages, videos, and site-specific installations, in which she highlights urban blight and sprawl.

She is interested in the reconstruction of the landscape due to technology, and the feedback effect of these changes on human identity.

In 2008, Isabelle Hayeur started exploring waterways. She has traveled through North America to document submerged environments of all kinds, especially in altered sites. She has made shooting trips in the different ecosystems of the Everglades, the Louisiana bayous, and a Staten Island boat cemetery.

Her 2013 video work Flow probes our relation to water, underscoring both its vital importance and the troubling recurrence of environmental disasters. It is structured around a contrast between the world of a small river, and the world of an oil refinery.  The video follows the flow of both and their opposing effects on the environment.

Castaway (2012) looks at the refuse of industrial society by examining the derelict boats and ships of Witte’s Marine Salvage at Staten Island.  The video is remarkable for its use of a camera at water level and below, moving through the inlet in a patient and mesmerizing choreography.  The video provides a reflection on this refinery-lined inlet near New Jersey’s Chemical Coast, a location that was once home to salt marshes, forests and freshwater wetlands.  Also in the exhibition is Aftermaths (2013) a meditative video that provides a look, from sea level, at Hurricane Katrina’s legacy of destruction and desolation.

Isabelle’s Hayeur’s works have been widely exhibited and are in numerous collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Fonds national d'art contemporain in Paris, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.

Robert Dawson

Robert Dawson, who teaches photography at Stanford University, has long been interested in how photography can be used to understand our relationship with the environment. Dawson, along with his wife Ellen Manchester, is founder and co-director of the Water in the West Project, a large-scale collaboration with several other photographers. His work, along with others' from the project, was published in A River Too Far: The Past and Future of the Arid West (1991) and Arid Waters: Photographs From the Water in the West Project (1992).  

For Dawson, water is a metaphor for the attitudes that have shaped the landscape of the West. Dawson’s photography examines the cultural values that have brought us to this critical point with the natural world. The photographs in the Water in The West Project are concerned with our attitudes toward agriculture, mining, resource development, recreation, Native Americans, growth, and environmental controversy.

Dawson has also explored issues related to water in his series The Global Water Project, and in The Great Central Valley Project.  Dawson, a native of the Valley, has explored issues such as water use and ground water depletion, increasing salinity and pesticide contamination in the soil, and survival of the small family farm.  

Dawson’s work is broad in its concerns, at the same time as it offers acute observations of specific moments in the life of California, and a vivid sense of place. Dawson has received widespread recognition for his work, and has recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship.  His work is in numerous collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.