Water – Introduction / Avital Barak

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the face of the deep and a wind from God hovering over the water.

9 And God said, “Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear,” and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering of waters he called the Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Thinking of water summons us back to Genesis and the moment of creation, the essence of existence. It raises questions around distinguishing between material and spirit, between high and low, between man and nature. It is no coincidence that the monotheistic creation myth around which Western society is organized evokes divisive thinking. It all begins with water and the distinction between water and everything else is what made the very act of creation possible. But thinking of water does not have to be based on differences; if we look at it with a holistic (more Eastern) perspective, water is among the elemental components that make up the entire world of phenomena. Like the primary colors which make up the rest of the palette, so too are the basic elements of nature present in everything, coloring every aspect of earthly existence — physical, social, economic and of course, political. An imbalance between the elements causes a chain reaction that is accompanied by severe consequences. 

The climate crisis, as a result of the blatant violation of this balance, disrupts all of the elements: the earth is shaking, fire is spreading, the air is polluted, the temperature is rising and the water, the water is rising, spilling over in some areas and disappearing entirely from others.

         Water is not simply the material that sustains all life on the planet, it also bears the cultural load of human life. It has a market value — as drinking water, as production power, as a currency of exchange, as symbolic representation. It carries the goods of the global world and thus enables its constant movement. It transports our sins against the earth, it is our punishment and reward. It is present in every product, every creature, every plant. It is the circulatory system of the world. A glacier melts at the North Pole and the waters of the Mediterranean rise. Oil is spilled off the coast of Canada, and fishermen in Bangladesh pay the price.

         This global network also encounters human interference in our stubborn attempt to produce divisions between territories, peoples and nations. But water crosses borders. 263 lakes and rivers in the world pass through more than one country and cover about half of the earth’s surface. Some 300 aquifers cross more than one border and serve as drinking water to around 2 billion people globally. Water has no business in nationalism, no interest in ideology, does not really care if Ethiopians are upstream and Egyptians downstream; it is in constant movement and when it encounters an obstacle, like a dam, it seeps in or overflows, finds channels that bypass the blockage or else simply evaporates. The encounter between man’s stubborn desire to control nature and water’s power of movement is both the source of a variety of conflicts as well as connections, compromises and collaborations.

         Water invites an abundance of metaphors and imagery: flowing water, stagnant water, contaminated water, underwater, above water, source of life, calm water, stormy water. A substance unto itself, water is in everything and is increasingly reflected in language, representation, and the act of mediation.

Itai Raveh, Nahal Kidron, 2021

This issue is another chapter in the multidisciplinary, multifaceted research project that has been taking place at the Center for Digital Arts for over a year. In continuing the research groups, the “Water Affairs” exhibition and the Atlas of Mediterranean Liquidity, this issue also offers a broad range of contexts in which water manifests as a site and a memory, as law and as a national project, as a source of conflict and as an opening to new opportunities. Man’s powerful desire to control water — liquid that exists in constant motion, is expressed in the drawing of borders, digging ditches, enacting laws and building dams — all in a desperate attempt to discipline what cannot be disciplined. The small water lexicon created for this issue moves between the past and the future, from existing conflicts to suggestions of a different perspective on planning, management and coexistence with water.

Itamar Mann deals with the maritime law from its beginnings, the rationale that brought about its formulation, the ideologies behind it and the pirates — “the enemies of humanity” — who knew how to exploit it for their benefit. Ram Aviram presents the very current dispute over control over the water of the Nile water and the escalating conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia around the Great Renaissance Dam. The amused poem shows the properties of transboundary water, the power relations between man and man and the speed with which wars over water eventually turn into blood. In Ella Litwitz’s visual essay, a non-existent material of great economic value sharpens the question of how sovereignty can be imposed on a material that is constantly in motion, never stopping, never returning to the same place twice. While in Assaf Selzer’s essay on the Zionist water project, the ethos of desolation and local water politics is told through a variety of stamps that have come out of over the years and reveal the State of Israel’s Gordian, maybe even neurotic knot with regard to water. The attempt to control water has led, over the course of many decades, to the perception of planning that has shaped urban spaces all over the country and even led to attempts at policing and regulating all of its rivers. But with the intensification of extreme climatic phenomena, with floods on the one hand and projected dehydration on the other, the understanding that something needs to change fundamentally has become widespread. Jenia Gutman suggests that this change must be based on empathy. Empathy in the sense of man toward nature, between man and nature, and in human life alongside nature. Empathy as an ethical perspective on planning could change the track on which we are headed toward climate disaster and an existence that is respectful of both the river and of the humans who live near it. And in the oscillation between past and future, between experience and memory, this lexicon comes to its end with a journey back in time to the quintessential Israeli experience from the last millennium — the waterpark. Ruth Oppenheim raises a host of sensory memories: the feeling of feet scorched from running on the sweltering hot tiles on the way to another round on the waterslide, the smell of French fries and forbidden hot dogs coming from the kiosk situated in the center of the park, the familiar friction of the body with the slide and the feeling of water when the body is ejected into the pool at the bottom. The wet, noisy and happy childhood memories mark another, extremely strange moment in our history of this place and its relationship with water.