“The Wave” Rolls Into Town

Allan Appel PhotoWater not only quenches John’s thirst. It also calms his soul.

That sentiment along with a wavy image of the wet stuff on polycarbonate film, which he made, were part of an interactive public art installation that unfolded Saturday.

It drew kids and grownups to the Ives Main Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library on an appropriately wet afternoon.

John (who didn’t want to give his last name) joined smaller folks like 3-year-old Casey Offenburger in the project called The Wave, conceived by artists Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman.

Through the work the artists are inviting the public to ponder the indispensability and fragility of the water supply and how it connects all of us.

They do this by asking you to make an image of wavy water and then string together individually made waves into a decorative colorful form that will hang in a public building.

Our library is the second of four libraries in Connecticut to host the installation.

The Wave has already appeared in 11 venues, including the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, which commissioned the original work two years ago.

Click here on the project’s website to see some of those colorful venues.

Each new venue will hold a piece of what was created in the previous one, thus underlining the interdependence of water use. Past venues have ended up with forms such as canopies of The Wave

New Haven’s will be a waterfall, cascading down from the second floor into the noble lobby, said Connecticut Library Consortium (CLC) Executive Director Jennifer Keohane.

Her group is functioning as the fiscal agent for a community engagement grant given the artists through the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Keohane said the project has previously been done in Stamford. It heads next to New London, and Willimantic.

The New Haven exhibition will hang through July, although no new wavelets will be added after Saturday.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be ongoing activity.

Quite the contrary. “This project will hopefully lead to more community projects,” said library Program Manager Carol Brown (pictured).

That’s where John’s comment about water comes in.

To spur local participation on water and waterfront issues, Brown plans to to utilize comments about a range of water questions, such as the one supplied by John.

On Saturday she also pinned up on movable panels a map of New Haven’s sewer separation efforts over the years.

In the coming weeks other maps and items pertaining to water and the waterfront selected from the library holdings will also go up to stimulate public engagement, but details and focus are yet to be worked out, Brown added.

While the library is viewing the exhibition as a way to utilize its resources in a new way and bring in partner organizations—the New Haven Bird Club also had set up a table by the art supplies—the artists are serious about the work as art.

“This is not an arts and crafts project,” said Kalman, an architect and Soviet emigre. “We see it as a serious installation, interactive but we are looking for a level of seriousness.”

Some of the artistic choices have already been pre-set, like the selection of colors, she added.

And only waves are allowed. “We make sure they’re all abstract shapes, no octopuses, mermaids, or fishes.”

Such realistic representations would detract from the overall intent, Kalman said. “It has to be abstract.”

Then the artists take thread and string the various submissions, by form and color, into patterns of their choosing for the hanging.

That’s also the artists’ choice, along with the style or format of the hanging.

After the libraries, the artists will be taking the project to The Wadsworth-Atheneum in Hartford.

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