THE PH PROJECT

Installation

Venice, Italy

2008

The installation entails a supra-natural water purification system that speeds up the cleansing effects of tidal wetlands and converts Venice’s notoriously filthy canal water into espresso. A transparent glass pipe passing through a window in the Corderie draws water from the adjacent canal and propels it through a state-of-the-art purification system that first filters and then distills out the sludge, sewage and toxins. When the water is clean enough to drink, it slowly falls like an I.V. drip where it is boiled into steam and forced through coffee grounds to become the quintessential Italian pick-me-up, served in a central espresso bar intersecting the exhibition. Beyond normal touristic consumption, visitors can drink Venice. The project reconciles extremes: the stench of sewage lying beneath the photogenic surface of Venice and the comforting scent and taste of espresso. On one hand, it makes light of our anxieties about contamination by making a game of the process of getting clean. On the other, it reveals the tremendous resources required to sustain even our most quotidian comforts and calls into question an implicit social contract: when turning on the faucet, water will always be safe, clean and drinkable. The realization of the project was stopped due to political fall-out caused by the premature letting of a water purification contract. Local authorities threatened to prosecute if work continued on the project. (unrealized)

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