How Contemporary Art Develops Debate: Pollution and Aquatopia.

Water pollution and water scarcity have long been part of the debate surrounding the effects we have on our environment. Taking on political, social, and economic aspects, various forms of media constantly inform people of the damage our species has done and continues to do. This is accompanied by the fear that it is too late to change.

The Centre For Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) thinks otherwise and has recently unveiled a new exhibition, Aquatopia. Featuring the work of artists Kingsley Ng, João Vasco Paiva, Chen Qiulin, Liu Shiyuan, Liu Yujia and Lucy+Jorge Orta, Aquatopia explores ecological concerns related to aquatic ecosystems through present urgencies and future imaginaries. 

The issues that this impressive exhibition highlights are not new, and the artists involved use their work to engage the public in fruitful discussion and informed debate. 

CFCCA curator, Marianna Tsionki, spoke of the rewarding and challenging nature of developing an exhibition focussing on environmental issues to create debate. “By having water as the underlying theme we generate an entry point for our visitors to engage with the exhibition and discuss these urgent environmental issues” 


One of the artists involved, Kingsley Ng, incorporates an interactive quality to his work. His piece, ‘Horizon’, which you can find in gallery two, consists of bottles of water on tap and asks people to create a horizon. “I was interested in creating something that can engage in dialogues and involve people of different cultures and generations…its not new that we have to talk about issues surrounding climate change, but when we have the chance, how do we talk about it?”

It is important to realise that different groups have different stakes and capabilities when it comes to the question of our environment. Kingsley Ng cleverly tackles this fact by presenting the audience with different sized glasses to distribute the water, “to create the horizon one of the glasses may have less or more water than the other, so how do you cope with that? and how do you regard others?” 


The motif of water distribution appears again in Lucy+Jorge Orta’s ‘Ortawater – Portable Fountain’ in gallery one. Veterans in creating art that tackles environmental issues, ‘Ortawater’ is reminiscent of a water life cycle but with the added theme of human consumption and use. Our relationship with water is pivotal to this exhibition and quite rightly so, our dependence on the precious element but also our own obliviousness to our abuses have played into the issues surrounding water scarcity and pollution. This point is strikingly apparent in ‘The Empty City’, a series of poignant photographs.


‘The Empty City’ tells the cautionary tale of the Three Gorges Dam project in the Yangtze River. The controversial topic serves as both reminder and personal commemoration on part of the artist, Chen Qiulin, who was relocated along with the rest of the city of Wanzhou’s population before it was flooded. 

This thoughtful and sincere collection is a testament to both the artists involved and the CFCCA. The motifs incorporated highlight the complexities of water scarcity and pollution. This includes the devastating effect of water on our planet as it appears to lash out in response to humanity’s abuses (see ‘The Empty City’ and ‘Wave’ in gallery one). 

The ultimate power of Aquatopia, and the CFCCA, is its ability to demonstrate how contemporary art can be used to further the conversation around pressing environmental topics. 

Aquatopia will be running  in Manchester until the 7th of October 2018 at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Northern Quarter. Get your tickets from Eventbrite here.

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