I decided to create an artist’s book about a vital element that would be common to all human beings. A book that would transcend differences in culture, language and geographical landscapes with a universal concept every human could grasp, like water.
So my question was: If I present an abstraction of water, will every world inhabitant recognize it? Do we share the same reality? In order to give as many clues as possible, I decided my artist’s book should have a 3D and a 2D view of water. It should also flow like water and escape one’s hands when handled. The pictures would be abstracted to include the water of a river, water fall, ocean, wave.
I found a fiberglass slide in a water park and I stood under it for 2 days. I was taking pictures of the swimmers’ bodies sliding down, and since the slide was leaking I got my fair share of wet. Once I had a series of 9 pictures printed on an 8”x11” luster paper, I tried to make them flow but all my prototypes were unsuccessful. As a photographer who gives thought to my composition the idea of chopping my pictures into pieces didn’t come easy. It’s only when I decided to cut them in thin stripes, that I was able to articulate the structure.
I decided to chose a blue/green palette and the bodies are black like anonymous silhouettes to avoid any reference to gender and ethnicity. I did a lot of research about water and yet the title of the book kept eluding me. There was no word for “abstraction of water”. That’s when I decided it should be a formula. Something scientific, essential but not easily readable.
I was introduced to Daniel Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician and physicist. Between 1725 and 1749 Daniel won 10 prizes from the Paris Academy of Sciences for work on astronomy, gravity, tides, magnetism, ocean currents, and the behaviors of ships at sea. The Bernoulli equation for unsteady potential flow, which is used in the theory of ocean surface waves, was the perfect formula for the title.
When making the box to house the book I was confronted with the fact that every stripe was sewn to one another. I decided to use the first letter (phi) of the formula as a way to grasp the book out of the box. Suddenly everything came together. There was a perfect flow between all the elements of the book. That’s the aha moment I work so hard to reach. I know it lasts only a fraction of a second, but it’s a moment when I feel I am part of the universe.
So far my book has been handled by people raised in a western culture and the answer is positive. But what about Eskimos, tribes in Amazonia? I am still looking for a definitive answer.