Monday, April 8, 2013

Factory Feature: Betsy Damon

Betsy Damon is an artist whose work is part of Feminist And…, an exhibition we have on view through May 26. Damon is an environmental artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Columbia University. In 1985 while camping across the country with her children, Betsy was moved by the dry riverbeds in Castle Valley, Utah, and decided to devote her life to the investigation, education, and preservation of the integrity of water. Six years later, in 1991, Damon founded Keepers of the Waters. As their mission states, Keepers of the Waters aims "to inspire and promote projects that combine art, science and community involvement to restore, preserve and remediate water sources."

For Feminist And… Damon created an enchanting installation in our basement. Equipped with stones, rocks and running water, Water Rules–Life Pittsburgh: Seeking Lost Rivers, Living Waters of Larimer is an inspirited work of art that completely transforms the space into a captivating new environment. Described by Damon as a “river,” this installation is meant to represent the topography of Pittsburgh. Damon explains that, “Water is the foundation of all life. The Ohio River is the foundation of Pittsburgh, and this very basement is the foundation of the Mattress Factory. This installation down in the basement is a foundation.” 

As part of her installation, Damon includes a video, Living Waters of Larimer. In this video, Damon interviews the residents of Larimer and talks to them about water in their community. Larimer is a plateau neighborhood in the east end of Pittsburgh upon which more than 75 million gallons of water falls upon annually. As part of her work here at the Mattress Factory, Damon also expands her installation to include the work she is doing in the Larimer community. Damon poses the question, “What would happen if Larimer was able to collect all their water?” She then concludes, “They could have playgrounds with water, fountains, ponds, streams running through, water for fire, water for the basic street cleaning, and it would all be from the rain water.” Damon continues to work with the Larimer green team and district to redesign the infrastructure of the neighborhood in order to accomplish such goals.

One might ask how an environmentalist such as Damon ties into our Feminist and… installation.  Damon explains, “The Earth really is our mother. We were born in water, and most life is created in water. Water is a generative force on our planet. For many reasons it has been really important for me personally to find that generative initiating impulse of life. And that’s very female.” Damon also was an activist during the beginning of the women’s movement and taught a feminist studio at Cornell University. She led a huge national network for twenty years called No Limits for Women Artists.

On Saturday, April 20, 2013, Betsy Damon will be at the Mattress Factory to lead ArtLab: You Are Water. In this ArtLab, participants will learn about how water creates life, form, your body, plants, stones, etc. She will demonstrate how to create natural filtration systems, and participants will make a work of art using a beautiful marbling technique on paper and inspired by the important role water plays in our lives.

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