New York

Meg Webster

In Meg Webster’s most recent installation the out-of-doors invades the fragile confines of the museum. Running, 1992, is a grandiose spectacle of water blasting from a pipe with the force of a fire hose against the museum wall. After thundering against a mountain of wire mesh and wood covered in Butyl rubber, the water cascades into an open pool only to be sucked in and shot back out again.

The materials and operating system are simple but highly evocative. A water pump and PVC pipe recycle the water around a wood, metal, and rubber obstacle course of decaying refuse much like a log jam encumbered by industrial waste. While the overall effect is like that of a waterfall or river rapids, nature as it exists here in the museum is far from virginal; rather, it is constructed and contextualized by artifice and industry. The wood has been lumbered to varying degrees, the rubber stretched like a tarp, and the flow of water regulated by the pump and piping. As the installation runs, the continuous flow of water erodes the wood and wire into a foaming froth.

The water’s movement parallels the earth’s hydrologic cycle, following the overall pattern of nature—transformation, regeneration, and return to the source. A microcosm of the earth’s cyclical, regenerative processes, this scaled-down version of our ecosystem magnifies the vulnerability of this natural cycle to the accumulation of refuse and debris. One has a sense that merely spitting into the water is enough to contaminate the delicate balance.

More than a critique, Running offers us the rare opportunity to act—it speaks directly to the problematics of operating machinery or a business. Adjacent to this living sculpture is a ramshackle assemblage of glass windowpanes discarded from buildings and homes and reconfigured to create four walls of a completely transparent room. Upon entering, one is transformed from a passive museum visitor into an empirical naturalist. The room contains an alternative fluid resource: information. Tables, chairs, computer terminals, and books form a resource center on the environment: computer programs give pictorial displays and statistics about pollution, the rainforest, and the ozone layer, while also offering a format for drafting a letter to one’s congressional representative. Among the books are “How to” manuals on every subject from starting your own small business, to making money on recycling and gardening, to state codes and tax laws for operating a small business in New York State. The goal is to make a comfortable, introspective environment in which one can actively see the possibilities of forming, if not actually starting, a business capable of turning a profit with “green” technologies.

The viewer is required to observe, inspect, and evaluate in order to forge a whole from these two separate pieces. In this way, an artwork that would normally simply offer a critique also offers the possibility of a solution, an essential factor in creating a truly public work of art. In this election year, Webster’s work is particularly resonant. Just as November offered us a rare opportunity to affect the course of our future, so, too, Running offers us an opportunity to do more than passively witness the decay of our environment.

Kirby Gookin