The Life of Water

Multimedia artist David Teeple creates watery installations designed to examine our relationship with this precious resource.

Northampton-based artist David Teeple doesn’t just create art from light and water. He collaborates with the two in a series of installations created from simple tanks of water arranged geometrically.

Teeple has created such installations for nearly 30 years. His largest, in 1996, was 46 1/2 feet long, 63 tanks, 9,000 pounds, 7 feet wide, and 27 inches high. Regardless of the size, Teeple’s installations represent his huge commitment to the ecological issues of water and his desire to examine them.

In his most recent two works featured at Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts, Teeple took inspiration from a series of canals and pipes that connect to a reservoir on the property. This ingenious system, engineered by the Shakers, produces hydro power and water for various purposes throughout the village. “It’s really the life blood, as water always is,” he says. “That’s a common theme for me.”

One installation features 25 glass-topped tanks on land and filled with water, containing 3,125 pounds of water from the reservoir system, which Teeple puts through a two-step filtration system to render it “pure optically.” Teeple leaves a small space between the surface of the water and the glass top to handle water expansion and contraction. This prevents a tank from bursting, but also allows for visual interest as the water changes thanks to rain and condensation, and also pollen and dust that enters and turns each tank into a tiny ecosystem. “I wanted the surfaces of the 25 tanks to act as a painting, a living painting of water,” Teeple says.

The other installation presents 16 tanks within the village reservoir. These have no tops, so environmental material enters with ease and the wind influences the water patterns within it. The reservoir has a 23-inch high-to-low variable, which can cause water to flood into the tanks, as well as sink below them, adding a kinetic quality to the piece.

“The night of the opening, it was level with the bottom of the tank,” says Teeple. “Yesterday it was five inches down. Last week it was seven inches down. I’m hoping we get some serious flooding and it does come up and even drown the tanks, and you’ll just see them through the surface.”

David Teeple

Teeple believes the Earth’s water system is over-stressed in a variety of ways, but fears that since the hydrologic cycle isn’t something people can view, they don’t take it seriously enough. Teeple’s tanks capture that cycle in miniature, offering visitors a chance to witness it for themselves through repeated viewings,  as well as affirm the clarity of water’s beauty.

“What the work is about is very, very simple,” Teeple says. “This body of work is about the poetry of light through the intersection of water and glass. It’s about beauty; it’s about simplicity, it’s about repetition and how simple materials put together in a simple pattern, a repetitious pattern, can create a very complex visual and phenomenological and psychological experience.”

David Teeple–multimedia artist
Northampton, Massachusetts


Janet ReynoldsThe Life of Water

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