It was my last day in London and I hadn’t quite enjoyed my short stay there so I took myself to Somerset House to look at some Impressionist paintings, they never fail to cheer me up.
Whilst there I came across another exhibit - Museum of Water. It was at basement level so I made my way down, and it all began at an outdoor passageway reminiscent of a dark alley Jack The Ripper would lurk in. As I was alone and the only person walking through, there were moments when I wanted to head back to the well lit white walls of normal exhibitions. Of course, London was typically covered in grey skies and it was raining so I quickly gave myself a pep talk that this will merely heighten the experience. After several turns I arrive at an entry – to a dungeon! I’m going to die, I think. I see people inside and none appear to be murderers, mostly because no one is wielding a knife and chasing after me. Feeling a tad safer I enter and explore each and every eerie, semi lit, dilapidated alcove.
The place smelt of damp, dim spotlights mysteriously lit tin buckets and basins, and sounds of dripping and trickling water followed my every move. I suddenly realize I’m absorbed in the exhibition and enjoying myself. I expected to find horror but instead I discover shelves with bottles of different shapes and sizes donated by hundreds of people who collected water from around the world and attached the stories of where they collected it.
There was water from a river where a couple fell in love, water from a woman who kept a bottle she bought from last century, water that was used to rinse brushes to paint a kitchen. Just as interesting as the stories were the containers the water was donated in: shampoo bottles, test tubes, flasks, glass jars in various forms, you name it, if you can store water in it, it was there somewhere. There were literally hundreds of water bottles and thus hundreds of stories.
But it wasn’t all look and read - I had to get my hands wet too. To activate some works (mostly recordings) people had to complete a circuit by dipping one hand in one bowl and their other hand in another bowl. As my hands soaked and cooled, I listened to different voices sharing stories about their water experiences and I got lost in their lives for a moment. In one alcove a few of us (all strangers) wondered if we held hands whilst the two at each end placed their hands in the bowl would the circuit still complete. It did! So we fIve stood together, holding hands and listened to a woman talk about almost drowning. I felt weirdly connected to others, present and non-present.
The exhibition was that inspiring, I went around a second time. It was wonderfully interactive and cleverly constructed. It ultimately asked each visitor to consider their own relationship with water and its meaning.
And if you want, you are encouraged to leave your own story in a bottle too.