Water Rules Life Pittsburgh: Seeking Lost Rivers, Living Waters of Larimer 2012

Betsy Damon
Feminist and…
sand, water, rocks, burlap, concrete, topographical map, audio, video

I'm inviting people to understand that they are partners with water. That water is not just here to serve you, if anything we need to serve her.


Betsy Damon is the most senior artist in the exhibition. In 1973 she taught a pioneering feminist studio class at Cornell University, and amongst her early performance work, The 7000 Year Old Woman (1977) has been represented in many publications as a germinal work in the women’s art movement. Damon’s feminist thinking affected every aspect of how she lived her life and considered human interrelations. In the mid-1980s she increasingly realized that feminist ethics changed her thinking about human relations with the non-human sphere, with nature, and with water. Given the tiny amount of fresh water there is on the planet, cleansing and re-vitalizing polluted dead water is a matter of our future life or death. Damon’s work since the 1990s has primarily been in the landscape on water cleansing and reclamation projects. – Hilary Robinson, Curator


Artist Statement

All these women in this exhibition chose to stand up and for something. I would also ask people: “Where have you stood up for something? And don’t trivialize that.” I’m inviting people to understand that they are partners with water. That water is not just here to serve you, if anything we need to serve her. You can’t take away a huge element that sustains life without that having a profound effect on your community and the future of your community, and the future of Pittsburgh doesn’t depend just on the future of the Ohio River, it depends on all the tributaries to it, all the creeks.

So my adventure has been how do I bring people to a consciousness of water? And at the same time how do I reveal with is invisible? Because most of the ways that water moves and what id does are actually invisible and if you sat by a stream for a long time you would figure it out, that’s what people used to do. They knew what was good quality water by the amount of structure in the water they could see. Because water structures everything, it structures the land, the rocks. Structure is water come to stillness.

About the Artist

Betsy Damon has committed herself—as an artist, a community organizer, a designer and a writer—to water in all its complexity. Her work engages with the environment, science, art and community, bringing her into contact with engineers and artists alike. She is a practical visionary, an acclaimed artist, a familiar name in art schools and internationally known, especially for her work in China, designing the Living Water Garden in Chengdu, Sichuan, China and working with the team on the Olympic Forest Park, Beijing, China. The special integration of art and science in her work gives her a great depth of collaborative experience. She invites and empowers many to know their waters and take charge of their right to water. Her work embraces both a knowledge of water molecules and its functions in creating life as well as the practical aspects of planning and design for resilience and complexity.

A seminal feminist, she formed the first university class for women artists at Cornell University in 1972. In 1976 her street performance piece, “The 7000- Year Old Woman,” became world renowned. For ten years, she directed large events in the U.S. and Europe. Perceiving a need for women to support each other, she started No Limits for Women Artists, a national organization (1980-2000).

While creating the funded work, “A Memory of Clean Water,” a 250-foot cast of the dry river, in 1985, Betsy realized that she knew nothing of water. She decided to dedicate herself to water. In 1991 she wrote, “Water is the foundation of life and must be the foundation of planning and design.” With awards from the UN Habitat, S.L.A. Waterfront Center and others, Betsy’s work is still evolving. She is initiating many projects, including the cleaning of the half-life radioactive tailings in the Cheyenne River, and the mapping of the Ballona watershed for resilience and complexity.