At the time of writing, there are over 1000 bottles in the Collection.
They range from 2 inches to 1 foot high. The water is red, yellow, green, blue, brown, transparent, white, and all varying shades in between. A rainbow collection. Some are pearlescent, some are muddy brown with sediment, a surprising number of them glitter. Some bottles have fish in them.
They tell of the ritual of water, of births, baptisms, weddings and birthdays. They tell of far away lands and nearby spaces. Sometimes they tell of places I thought existed only in our minds: ‘water under the bridge’, ‘a taste of home’, ‘the point of no return’. Now we have the water to prove it.
The bottles commemorate beloved people who have died, and precious friendships, as if we could bottle up a little essence of the person and each other and keep it forever. A flavour of us, like an essential oil. Sometimes people keep an actual part of themselves in the bottle, in toothpaste spit, saliva, breath or urine, a little DNA.
The bottles are a memory of times gone by, but they look as far forward as they look back. The young man who brought me water from his first home in London, full of hope and future, staked his claim to a little part of this city, a new beginning; the dirty water from the kitchen sink re-framed the daily drudgery of dishwashing into a daily act of devotion, and has forever changed my attitude to housework.
For many years people have been making collections of water. The Museum has a bottle that someone kept for 20 years, before handing it on for safekeeping, and a bottle of Millenium Water, that was given in celebration of a whole century of change and water. A young woman once came to the Museum and looked at the collection a little wistfully, saying it was bittersweet for her: she had made a precious collection of water over 2 years when she was 16, but her mother had thrown it out when she went to University.
As much as the Museum can map cultural differences and our impact on the world, our human achievements, the collection is also a performance of everyday life: the daily ritual of our mornings, washing teeth and showering, the comfort of an afternoon’s cup of tea, a brew, the consolation of a bath, the glass of water by our bed. The bottles tell of joyous holidays swimming, splashing, playing on beaches. They are often the water we would otherwise have poured down the sink, this time saved and kept. They are a personal collection of private moments shared.
I am aware that the Museum is a Sisyphean attempt to hold onto something that is going, a hoarding of objects and liquid in a century already filled with a crush of objects. The shape of the bottles on a shelf figures forth a graph of our water experience, encapsulated in bottles, mapping our feeling for water. I make no attempt to conserve the water, and relatively soon the collection will disappear (5 years, 10?), and become a collection of bottles, of ways we used to use water, of what it used to offer us. This is a live artwork – a museum of evanescence – and the water is in dynamic process with us. This is a collection of water here and now. If we cannot bear to see it go, we are all implicated in conserving it. This world is in flux, the constant to and fro mirrored by the molecules of water in the bottles, always in motion, evaporating, inhaled, in constant cycle. In this Museum, movement and loss are instigating forces.
Someone described the Museum as a ‘mosaic of the universe’. It is a mapping of what we value and how we care; it is a cartography of polar exploits, wild adventure and intimate moments. It is a record of our daily lives, lived with water.