Here’s a parable I learned recently: Once there were two young fish swimming nonchalantly around in their pond, when an older, wiser fish in passing greets them with, “Good morning boys, how’s the water?” and swims off. Perplexed, the two young fish look at each other and one asks, “What the hell is water?”*
Without getting too much into it, one of the things this parable speaks to, for me, is awareness. Awareness of all the little and big, subtle and obvious (but especially the obvious) but mostly overlooked things that make up the water of the lives we go around swimming in. Not just politics, culture, and economics, but also the everyday/personal, eat, sleep, work, play, family and friends aspects of plain ol’ life.
One of the greatest things that good art does is ask questions that address this and ultimately, remind us, swimmers of all ponds, what it feels like to be alive. It allows us to be awake at least for certain moments to our often exhaustingly boring, tedious, repetitive, mundane mundane mundane lives and to freshen up all the sleepy blurred details. The feeling of the sun warming your closed eyelids, or having a conversation with someone who broke your heart, or of trying to make a really tough decision about how to live your life. In other words, art can permit us to be human again.
So if you’re a little fish, big fish, young or old fish swimming around in the El Monte and South El Monte pond (or whatever pond you happen to swim in), I ask: How’s the water?
As part of the South El Monte Arts Posse’s (SEMAP) first public art exhibition and event, I’ve asked artists Jason Gutierrez, Romeo Guzman, David Jovel, Juan Renteria and Christopher Anthony Velasco to dive into the El Monte/South El Monte pond and test it out for themselves. On the evening of July 27 (details forthcoming) they will share with the public their works of art in various neighborhood locations.
Inspired by public spaces such as parks, freeway underpasses, blank building walls, alleys, gardens and vacant car lots, artists have been asked to walk, ride, taste, eat, smell, and experience in whichever way they choose, the streets of this community and make original site-specific works of art. The point is for both artists and audiences to rethink how we all experience, relate to, and understand space.
Between now and July 27, keep an eye out for these artists and please join us at our event for a summer evening of free art installations, screenings and more on a street near you.
*I read this parable in a published commencement speech made by the late writer David Foster Wallace, entitled “This is Water”.