glass, metal, water and light projection

A metal frame with a glass panel on top of which water runs on a circular system. The piece is illuminated by a light projector in such a way the shadow of the gentle rolling waves are projected on an opposite ramp, giving the illusion the water is going up, therefore, defying Gravity.

Programa de Exposições do Centro Cultural São Paulo, 2002


A rectangular metal frame holds an inclined glass panel on top of which water slides endlessly. Both, the superior and inferior sides of the rectangle have a galvanised flanders container, like those found on the bottom of a roof to collect water from the rain. The superior is small; the inferior is big, so as to hold more water. The piece is hanged from the ceiling by 4 steel cables stretched from each of its corners in a stable position 2,5m approximately from the ground on its lower side. Some people would be able to reach it with arms stretched. Even if doing so, they wouldn’t be able to see how the water runs continuously. Just by observing, on its turn, one can deduce a pump collects the water on the lower compartment and pumps it up to the upper one through a hidden pipe. The water overflows the upper reservoir and slides on the glass.

The speed of the water is proportional to the inclination. Intuitively, from the picture, one can even imagine the movement. We all have contemplated water running on glass in all sort of situations. A more attentive engineer would be able to calculate the speed being given the inclination and the water volume. The beauty is not so much on the speed, though, but on the waves the water produces. They come in pairs, sometimes in groups of three, from either sides or from the center. Some are faster than others and catches up with the ones that rolled before. There’s a cycle of waves within a cycle of the circulation of the water just like what happens from the molecular to the atmospheric levels.

If we’re to stop here and analyse the piece there’s already a lot that can be said. Aesthetically, there’s something of the post-minimalism of the 70’s from artists like the Brazilian Jose Resende, who explored industrial materials and the way they interact in a more poetical and philosophical way than properly dealing with systems and machines. The piece is in dialog with architecture as the it easily camouflages itself with the functionality of the building, in which the functioning is displayed so one can understand how the building works. The tropical garden outside the glass panel is also in dialog with the running water that could be from a calm and relaxing waiting room of a public building.

There’s one more layer to the work, though. A layer of light. A light projector placed behind and above the object illuminates the water, projecting the shadows of the waves on the ramp that gives access to the exhibition space. Because the ramp is on an opposite inclination to the glass on the piece, the waves are projected as if going up the ramp. Try to visualize the top of the glass illuminating the bottom of the ramp. When the wave arrives at the bottom of the glass, it illuminates the top of the ramp. The image projected is distorted but still works for the attentive eye.

Two references of Art History pops to mind: first, M.C. Escher Waterfall, an illusionistic etching drawing of a waterfall on a mill in which the water bellow seems to be at the same level as the water above due to the use of a parallel projection perspective. Even those who might never have seen Escher’s image may have already come across a pastiche of it somewhere. It’s a classic of illusionism. The other reference is Marcel Duchamp’s Étant Donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), an installation in which we observe, through a gap in an old wooden door, the naked body of a woman lying down on the grass, holding a gas lamp on one hand and having a waterfall behind. The work is presented as an enigma to the public. My personal take on this is, being given this situation, I’d make the water run uphill in a moto continuous just like in Escher’s Waterfall. When I visited Duchamp’s work at the Philadelphia Museum, USA, and when I saw Escher’s Waterfall in The Haag, Netherlands, I stopped for a moment to imagine showing the two artists my work.

Cascata, is a Portuguese word for waterfall but it also has a popular meaning of a big lie. There might be the equivalent in English of saying something doesn’t hold water, meaning it isn’t a cogent argument or it doesn’t have truth in some sort of sense. An optical illusion is some sort of visual lie, therefore, it’s reasonable to call it Cascata.