Rewind: The Water Hole

Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger: The Water Hole, installation view, ACCA, 2008. Courtesy ACCA Archive

By Kay Campbell

The Water Hole was one of those exhibitions that just took off and became an overnight hit. ACCA was inundated with families and kids over the summer holiday season, captivated by the magical world created by Swiss collaborative duo Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger. The exhibition was the closest ACCA had come to a ‘blockbuster’, with more people than our small staff could cope with at times.

ACCA welcomed Gerda and Jörg to Melbourne for a 3-month residency to prepare their environmental installation The Water Hole in September 2008. Our project partners, Footscray Community Arts Centre, provided them with accommodation and studio space, and over many weeks they worked with members of the local community and other volunteers to create hundreds of imaginary creatures, strange ceramic eggs, fabulous trees and other paraphernalia which would eventually make their way to ACCA.

The Water Hole featured a huge new commission in ACCA’s main gallery that took the visitor through a fabulous grotto. There were many other earlier works also presented in the smaller galleries, including videos, mobiles, a hanging bed, a suspended meteor and a tear desalination experiment.

Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger: The Water Hole, installation view, ACCA, 2008. Courtesy ACCA Archive

At the heart of Gerda and Jörg’s practice lies a serious concern for the environment.  Using discarded things – broken toilets, obsolete mobile phones and plastics brought together with a forest of trees, self made crystals, invented creatures made from thrown away items – they created a fantasy world. The Water Hole was a three dimensional, experiential place in which the organic and inorganic performed a symbiosis of invention and exuberance.

Children and adults alike were drawn to The Water Hole, as if discovering a fantastic fictional place. People lay on the therapeutic bed whilst a meteor swung over their heads, or on a swinging bed under a magical chandelier of twigs and bits and pieces.  They wandered around exploring a kaleidoscope of caves, water and crystals; peered into microscopes to see the tiny world held in a tear drop; climbed to a look-out to observe other visitors exploring the grotto; and moved along the silver, shimmering tunnel that sounded like rain. All the while a tiny drip of water was released into the golden pond-bed, which over the season, dried and cracked in sympathy with one of Victoria’s most prolonged droughts.

During those hot summer holidays, the ACCA education team created a treasure hunt to encourage kids to notice the details and share the experience with their parents and grandparents. In February we were overwhelmed with school groups.  Until that time ACCA’s education program had focused predominantly on secondary and tertiary students, but the overwhelming response of young children inspired us to devise ACCA’s renowned philosophy of art for kids sessions known as MAKE. I still find it exciting watching young participants in this popular program curiously grappling in quite sophisticated ways with some of the bigger questions that art throws at us.

Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger: The Water Hole
23 December 2008 – 1 March 2009

Kay Campbell is the Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.