Posts Tagged ‘Hydraulic Empire’

Holly Keasey: Santa Fe Art Instutite Water Rights Residency – Introduction

February 11, 2017

Holly Keasey is currently undertaking a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute as part of the Water Rights programme. During the next 8 weeks Holly will be sending regular updates.


“156. Why is the sky blue? -A fair enough question, and one I have learned the answer to several times. Yet every time I try to explain it to someone or remember it to myself, it eludes me. Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal.

157. The part I do remember: that the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal puts it, “The color of any planetary atmosphere viewed against the black of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue.” In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets (Wave Books, 2009)

A primary observation when arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico is blueness. Blueness not of water like I am accustomed – that blue filled with surrounding green and a durational dampness – but rather blueness that reflects a niggling lack. A blue where no cloud resides.

image-1-santa-fe-railyart-art-district

A second observation enforces that niggle further as you become physically aware that breathing in this geographical climate, and therefore basic survival here, is a laboured task.*

And a third observation then pushes that niggle down into the gutturals, as the dominant ‘Santa Fe Style’ architecture** conjures up an uncanny reminder of Disney World and yet inside a fe-adobe building you can still find an independent coffee shop, generic in style and intended cliental to any recently gentrified area.

image-2-modern-general-santa-fe

Yet, it is observations like these that make Santa Fe a prime site for reflections on ecological situations developing across the globe and fortunately, many individuals, community groups and organisations here are already undertaking such reflections and acting upon them. This includes Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) that run an annual residency programme with set thematic, which for 2016/17 is ‘Water Rights’.

SFAI was established in 1985 by William Lumpkins and Pony Ault to provide unique opportunities for artists to conduct brief, intense periods of study. The current programme format continues and expands upon this original intention, hosting over fifty local, national or international creative thinkers, artists, designers, educators, policy makers, poets, architects, journalists, and activists to reflect on the issue of ‘Water Rights’ for one to three month periods. During these times, residents are able to establish a network of peers working within a common context; are provided support to develop collaborations such as with the Land Arts of the American West programme and the Academy for the Love of Learning; encouraged to develop their professional profile through press coverage with media consortiums such as Circle of Blue; given access to the community workspace MAKE Santa Fe; and invited to attend interdisciplinary discussions with other research institutes such as Santa Fe Institute that conduct research on complex system-theory application.

That said, the primary purpose is to provide residents the time and space to conduct research and/or develop new work in relation to ‘Water Rights’ which may, one-day, indirectly impact the water rights of the surrounding area.

New Mexico is a state where all its waters sources are transboundary (i.e. are shared with other States), a situation that continues to add to a complex history of water rights influenced by the cultures of the Pueblos, the Spanish Colonists and US Federal Government. This history includes occurrences, such as the use of written law as a weapon of dominating power, that reflect Karl Wittfogel’s theory of the Hydraulic Empire, when control of a society is established through the manipulation of its water supply.11 My particular area of research during this 8-week residency will be on this misuse of law and whether non-specialists can develop tactics that makes use of their potential misunderstandings of intended meaning to create space to dream of alternatives. This research will be part of an on-going body of performative work that aims to establish a need for critical formations of public art to aid ecologically sensitive modes of living, with a particular focus on Water Sensitive Urban Design.

So far though, myself and several of my fellow residents have spent our time soaking in much needed doses of vitamin D as we say hello to the sun after dark winters whilst accepting that altitude sickness has a similar and undesirable effect of a heavy night of drinking and a life-time smoking habit, and it can last twenty-five days.

* The human body works most efficiently at sea level whilst at high altitudes the saturation of oxyhemoglobin in the blood plummets. Santa Fe is situated at 7198 feet above sea level.

** Also known as Pueblo Revival style, it is a regional architectural style that is mandate on all new-buildings in the central Santa Fe area. This includes the use of rounded corners, irregular parapets and thick battered walls to simulate original adobe construction.


Holly Keasey is an artist currently based between Dundee and Stockholm. She graduated with a BA in Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practice from the University of Dundee in 2011 and completed a post-masters course in Critical Habitats from the Department of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm in 2016. Holly’s focus is on the performative role of public art and her approach to practice has led her to take on a variety of roles including Chair-person for the Generator Projects Committee, lead-artist for the Clyde River Foundation and writer-in-residence for Doggerland. More recently, Holly has produced collaborative designs with artist-design Jessie Giovane-Staniland including finalists in the tender competition for the restaurant design of the Dundee branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum; been the DD artist-in-residence at THIStudios; and recently exhibited a solo show at the Scottish Jute Museum. She is currently working with Studio Mossutställningar to program work challenging the urban development at Norra Djurgardsstaden, Stockholm and producing a one-off publication with Kathryn Briggs of Ess Publications on over-coming trauma through aesthetics.


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