At the time of writing, there are over 700 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. One bottle has a fish in it.
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 spit or 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.
Most of all, the collection is 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. They tell of joyous holidays swimming, splashing, playing on beaches. They are often the water we would usually have poured down the sink, this time saved and kept. They are a personal collection of private moments shared.
They are a record of our daily lives, lived with water.