Increasingly, water is becoming the world’s most precious resource. The privatization of water by corporations is adding to the decimation of communities around the world, as detailed in the 2004 documentary Thirst. Population growth, pollution, and disputes over access to what some see as a basic human right and others see as a commodity have led to water being dubbed “blue gold,” the oil of the 21st century. In response to the issues raised by water rights, artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, originally from Madrid and now living in Chicago, created a project for Unsettled Landscapes called Well 35° 58' 16" N 106° 5' 21" W. It potentially makes water available for anyone — anyone visiting one of two locations in New Mexico, that is. In collaboration with Santa Clara Pueblo artists Roxanne Swentzell and Rose Simpson, Manglano-Ovalle installed a working well on their family property near the pueblo, tapping into an underground aquifer. The title gives the geographic coordinates of the well’s location.
Initially, Manglano-Ovalle, whose Phantom Truck installation was among the highlights of SITE’s 2012 exhibition More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, wanted to broach an aquifer within Santa Fe city limits. “I knew there was an aquifer here. There’s also a couple of city wells not far from SITE Santa Fe. Maybe we could tap it. We’d drill the well, we’d install it, we’d lock it, and we’d give the keys to the Water Division. That became politically impossible.”
When he was invited out to Simpson’s property, the first thing she did was offer him a glass of water, a common enough gesture but a symbolic one. “My conception was that the well would be located on the property owner’s land and that the property owner would determine who had access to this water, including whether they would invite people to see the well as art.”
After installing a drilling rig on the site, Manglano-Ovalle began to dig down 142 feet to reach sthe aquifer. “By all indications the water is fantastic,” he said. “The pump will be there for the community, but [water will] also be transported to SITE Santa Fe. I am hoping there will be glasses here, and if you want to, you can have some water. At a certain point it’s that idea of consuming or imbibing the artwork. My hope is that SITE will make the water accessible to you, that you can drink it, and that Rose and Roxanne will invite people to come up and pump water there.” A corresponding nonfunctional sculptural component, a simple elegant pump, is installed at SITE along with photo documentation about the project.
“Water is a simple resource that’s the basis of life. Increasingly, there are political, social, cultural, and economic conflicts over water, whether we’re talking about taking water from this area of the country and transporting it all the way to the West Coast or tapping the Great Lakes Basin in the future to feed the rest of the United States or who controls water between Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. This piece is pointing to those larger issues. It’s site-specific on one level, local on another level, and global.”