Water, Is Taught By Thirst
Writer, conservationist, and icon Joan Didion’s relationship with water is well documented, and few contemporary artists can lay claim to such a lifelong relationship with our most vital element. In her seminal environmentalist essay “Holy Water” Didion opines, “My own reverence for water has always taken the form of this constant meditation upon where the water is, of an obsessive interest not in the politics of water but in the waterworks themselves, in the movement of water through aqueducts and siphons and pumps and forebays and afterbays and weirs and drains, in plumbing on the grand scale.” The author’s adoration is unmistakable in her prose, it’s poetry mirroring water’s ebb and flow, grace and transparency.
One can’t help but be reminded of Didion’s relationship with water when confronted by the works of GTA artist Meaghan Ogilvie, whose own relationship with nature has led to the creation of works that engage with water visually the way Didion’s do textually; with unfettered affection, grace, and the utmost respect. As Ogilive herself writes, “The images I create are intimate interactions between people and nature. Nature is the inspiration behind my work and over the past ten years my focus has been on water—understanding both the beauty and plight of our relationship to it.”
While Didion’s artistic interaction with water tends to be at a distance, Ogilvie wants us to literally get in the water, to experience its every sensation, to revere its playfulness. “Water is life – it’s as simple as that,” says Ogilvie, whose first memory of water may have scared most. “My first memory of water was almost drowning at my family’s pool party. Although I was scared, I remember being fascinated as I looked up to the surface and saw the light come through and the sounds become muffled and muted.” This memory is both prominent and evident in Ogilvie’s work, which places its audience directly within the reverie of water’s power, beauty, and all-encompassing nature.
“I want people to explore their own role in these interactions and use the images as a way to spread awareness of environmental issues, as well as encourage a love for the ocean and waterways.” This sentiment has provided an artistic foundation that has seen her celebrated in being shortlisted for the Sony World Award, awarded residencies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the Tahsis Art Gallery in Vancouver, and being included in numerous prominent collections, collectives, commissions, and projects all over the world.
Ogilvie’s work is ambitious. Her understanding and affection for conservationism has a deft touch, much like water itself, and asks that we reassociate ourselves with water’s intricacy and emotionality, as well as its utility. “Our connection with water runs much deeper than just washing the dishes and taking a shower. It nourishes, heals, and supports all living things. I think we’ve come so far removed from understanding that. My work is an attempt to re-connect some of what we’ve lost.”
The contrast of Didion and Ogilive’s work is not simply rooted in water. Ogilive’s chosen form was the result of textual and artefactual engagement. “I was about ten years old […] my grandparents had a stack of National Geographic magazines that I loved. My family didn’t have money to travel, so I lived vicariously through the stories and images. They had a huge impact on me. I promised myself I would become a photographer so I too could travel, adventure, constantly learn and inspire others to do the same.”
Ogilive’s affection for water is palpable, both in her work and conversation. Both reveal and revel in its wonder, its mystery, and its singular essentialness, as during a trip to Pulau, where “it was like Avatar underwater. There were the most incredible and alien-like creatures underwater. Things I never imagined existed.”
A conversation with Ogilivie begs a trip to the ocean, a dip in a lake, the rush of a spring river’s dissipating floe—submersion and release. “There is so much that I love about water. I love that it never stands still and is constantly changing shape. It is so beautiful as a subject to photograph. I love that it makes me feel so free and curious. When I’m in it, I feel like I’m home and when I’m away from it I feel a longing to get back to it. Words are not enough to tell the depth of meaning I attach to the happiness I feel when I’m in it or on it. Swimming has never been just a physical activity for me. It goes much deeper than physicality — it’s an experience of the spirit and heart. It makes me feel whole and balanced, but what I love most is its ability to connect everything. Through my work, I’ve been connected to people and places all over the world and I’m so grateful for these experiences.”