Curatorial Projects > Agua y Tiempo/Water and Time (2003-04)

Agua y Tiempo/Water and Time

An installation by Claudia Bernardi with sound design by Jay Cloidt and video editing by Nefertiti Kelley-Farias

December 3, 2003 - January 24, 2004
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A solo exhibition by Claudia Bernardi, an internationally known artist who works in the fields of human rights and social justice and who has shown her work in over 40 solo exhibitions. In all of her work over the past two decades - whether as an artist through installation, sculpture, and printmaking, as an educator through teaching and lecturing, or as a participant in human rights investigations - she has impacted thousands of people with her integrity, compassion, and truthfulness.

Agua y Tiempo/Water and Time is Bernardi’s investigation into the physical, psychological, emotional, and biological properties of water and time. Her interest in focusing on these multifaceted and transformative elements is rooted in her longstanding interest in and history of working in both science and poetics. Having worked extensively in the traditional fields of printmaking and sculpture, Bernardi moves into new artistic territory by incorporating video projection into this exhibition. She uses electronic media to enhance the contemplation of human experience and to magnify our understanding of memory, recollection, and the passage of time. Initially inspired by a transformative experience in the photography darkroom at U.C. Berkeley in the 1980s, Bernardi has long wanted to investigate the understanding and articulation of the cultural, political, and social currencies of water and time. As Bernardi states, “Water and time disguise themselves as obtainable. It is possible to consider them as vital parts of existence without which life cannot be created nor sustained. Yet, water and time, both elusive and persistent, present a conceptual challenge that can only be resolved in the intimacy of a personal and poetic consideration of the intangible aspects of memory. This installation is conceived as a recording of the interstitial and subtle segments between permanence and disappearance. It focuses on the defying and fragile effort of humanity to remain present in an ever mutating, inconsolable transit.”

Bernardi’s involvement with human rights issues and participation in forensic anthropology investigations since the mid 1980s with the internationally known Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (AFAT) has been a primary and profound influence on the origins of this project. Established to supply evidence of human rights violations carried out against civilian populations, AFAT utilizes the rigorous methods of traditional archaeology to examine, document, and publicly expose mass burial graves. AFAT have conducted exhumations around the world and have reported their findings to the United Nations. Through this work, Bernardi learned the meticulous scientific methods of traditional archaeology to examine, document, and publicly expose mass burial graves. Bernardi’s responsibilities with AFAT included creating archeological maps of burial sites and transcribing testimonies of families of the “disappeared,” often using drawing as an aid to memory and testimony. From that point, she realized the full import of how art could be used to elucidate the memories of survivors of human rights atrocities.

AFAT has used the passage of time to rectify crimes lost to history. For Bernardi, the effect of time on historical memory, evolution, earth, and humanity is an infinite source of artistic investigation. Unearthing bodies that time has reduced to bones has brought justice to those who suffered from crimes of humanity. To a forensic anthropologist, truth lies embalmed in the marrow of the dead. Skeletons long deprived of lips and lungs may nevertheless whisper their secrets to those with their ears tuned to listen. Through their investigations that have been instrumental in the pursuit of justice, AFAT historically reconstructs human rights violations that offending governments minimize, conceal, or outright deny. Bernardi and AFAT have used the passage of time to rectify the crimes of times past. For forensic anthropologists surrounded by earth in mass graves, time seems to stand still. Crimes committed years ago resonate with the same intensity now.

Bernardi’s forensic anthropology work has literally and metaphorically defined earth as a tangible, solid, and rooted element - it is material that she is intimately familiar with. For Bernardi, however, water represents everything polar to earth – shifting, fluid, and infinite in its manifestations. It is, like time, an element necessary for the growth and transformation of our physical world as well as our emotional and psychological world. Expansive and sustaining, it is used by cultures throughout the world as a means of cleansing. In Agua y Tiempo/Water and Time, Bernardi mirrors her use of art as a means for obtaining social justice, exploring the transformative power of these two elements on broad notions of human landscape - physical, psychological, emotional, and philosophical. She evokes a place formed and inhabited by memories, provides aural and visual reference points that trigger us to recall people who are gone and time that is past, and invites us to find our own footing within the larger continuum of time and history.