In Rebecca Belmore’s installation Fountain, water fountains are utilized
as a concept to compel emotional responses. However unlike commemorative water
fountains that ostensibly represent prosperity, Belmore’s Fountain
contains layers of personal and global meaning. It touches on the power of
place, and our common needs as human beings. Taking from the local and moving
into the global, it also acknowledges the hegemonic nature of globalization and
the potential for violence over our most important natural resource, water.
Using performance, sculpture, installation and
video, Belmore’s highly political work often addresses history,
place, and identity. Examined themes include human’s relationship
to land, the depletion of environmental resources, cultural
stereotypes and women’s issues. Her body is usually her main
artistic vehicle, “reinforcing the theory that culture and history
are inscribed on the body”.
Belmore’s movements and gestures are recognizable, as she washes, sews, labours,
and expresses heartache, loss, and resilience. By using her body in her
performance work, references are made that recognize and honour women’s roles
and experiences, as well as cultural tenacity. Her performances are
intrinsicably linked to object-making, and often result in items that reflect
her process and end results of her performance work.
An example is Belmore’s performance alter-ego, High-tech Tipi Trauma Mama.
Trauma Mama was an extroverted trickster, whose loudness and party-girl nature
was a contradiction to stereotypical notions of Aboriginal women, such as the
quiet Indian Princess, or submissive squaw. Trauma Mama came with various props
during performances that later became exhibited art objects themselves. In
Rising to the Occasion, Trauma Mama wore a version of a Victorian dress in a
parade called the Twelve Angry Crinolines, organized at the time of the Duke and
Duchess of York visit to Thunder Bay in the summer of 1987. The dress, which
contained items such as a breastplate made of two fine English porcelain
saucers, royalty memorabilia, trade objects, and a beaver dam bustle, is a wry
comment on the impact of tourism and nationalism on contemporary First Nations
In Vigil (2002), Belmore memorialized the lives of fifty women, mostly
Aboriginal, who went missing in Vancouver, BC’s east end. In front of an
audience in the crime and poverty plagued area, Belmore scrubbed the street
clean, and ripped the thorns off of fifty rose stems with her teeth, while
loudly calling out the names of the fifty missing women. She lit as many
candles, then slipped into a red flowing dress that she nailed pieces of to
telephone poles. Belmore violently ripped the dress, until it was completely
torn from her body. She completed this memorialization, or cleansing, by
relaxing against a pick-up truck, while listening to a James Brown tune.
The video made of this performance was featured in the work, The Named and
the Unnamed, in which the projection screen was punctured with light bulbs.
The lit bulbs made it somewhat distressing to see, as viewer’s attention was
split between the surface screen and the image projected.
The struggle viewers had with watching the video on the textured screen was a
physical reminder of the emotional anguish felt by many over this tragedy.
was created specifically for the 51st Venice Biennale,
connects Venice and Vancouver BC, where Belmore now resides. Both
locales are surrounded by water, and are places of commerce with
busy ports. Fountains were imported to North America from Europe
with colonization, and according to Belmore, Vancouver is “fountain
For centuries, water fountains have held cultural and communal significance. In
towns and cities around the globe, water fountains were (and still are in some
locations) a source for human consumption and survival. They were also gathering
places for people to interact socially. Later, fountains became commissioned by
churches, government states, wealthy individuals, and corporations such as banks
to celebrate prosperity, regardless if it actually existed.
Commemorative fountains still compel us to believe in the powers that be, and
that there is an abundance of natural, cultural, and economic resources to
spare. Rhythmic in motion and sound and often ornately designed, they are
intoxicating symbols that feed our indulgent natures. Fountains have been
commissioned in both Venice and Vancouver to suggest there is affluence due to
an abundance of natural resources and natural beauty.
Belmore describes Fountain as an apparition. It is located in a state
somewhere between being asleep and awake. Referencing the four natural elements
–air, fire, water, and earth, water is the main focus– water is our lifeline.
Through a wall of hypnotic falling water a video image is projected of an
industrial beach on a cold and cloudy day.
It is Iona Beach outside of Vancouver
BC. The beach is situated alongside the Pacific Ocean. It’s near an airport,
sewage plant, Musqueam land, and lumber mills – all a mass of contradictions. A
plane flies over the empty beach, where a pile of logs lay – perhaps leftovers
from logging. The plane makes a bomb sound, and the logs become enflamed,
beginning Belmore’s apparition. This fire is magic, and symbolizes the intense
transformation that is about to occur.
The next shot is of Belmore, flailing in
the water, struggling with a bucket. The bucket she urgently struggles with
seems to represent various burdens, stemming from historical occurances, or from
events that will soon take place.
After struggling, a calm descends over Belmore as
she kneels and holds the bucket under water. Does her calmness mean
she’s given into the weight of whatever she is besieged with, or
that she now has a firm hold?
She then rises and walks onto the shore.
Belmore fiercely throws the contents of the bucket towards
the camera lens. Instead of water, it is now blood that
covers the screen. Belmore stares at the lens that is now
distorted with the blood. With the same calmness that came
over her in the water, Belmore confronts the viewer.
I interpret this sheet of blood to be a stain separating the viewer and Belmore.
Stains have the potential to be permanent. Removing them can take immense work,
and they seem to always leave a lasting mark, or memory of their existence. This
bloody stain can be interpreted in several ways. One is that it represents
history that Belmore is throwing back at the viewer for reflection. Belmore
suggests that she is taking the weight of colonial history, washing it from her
body, and splashing it on the screen where it becomes an object for reflection.
However, the stain represents much more than colonial history. The impact of
globalization on natural resources is a stain that also needs to be rendered
is becoming a powerful tool that is promoted as being
inclusive and progressive. Globalization is “a set of
processes leading to the integration of economic,
cultural, political, and social systems across
According to cultural theorist Ulf Hannerz in
“Scenarios for Peripheral Culture”, “Because of the
great increase in the traffic in culture, the
large-scale transfer of meaning systems and symbolic
forms, the world is increasingly becoming one not only
in political and economic terms, as in the climatic
period of colonization, but in terms of its cultural
construction as well; a global ecumene of persistent
cultural interaction and exchange. This however, is no
egalitarian global village.”
It can be
argued that globalization stems from the process of
capitalist development. Large-scale Western corporations
lead the way for globalization. They thrive off of
locating cheap labour in marginalized countries, benefit
from global financial markets, and target natural
resources in Third World countries. Belmore recognizes
this inequality, and the impact it can have on
everyone’s access to natural resources.
In the late
1990’s the World Bank reported that 80 countries had
water shortages that threaten health and economies. Over
forty percent of the world has no access to clean water
or sanitation. With these statistics, water may replace
oil as a future cause of war between nations.
As societies become more inter-linked through
globalization, any regional catastrophe can have great
global repercussions. Belmore’s apparition warns viewers
that violence may occur, if we do not take better care
of our natural resources, and each other. The stain
makes reference to blood that may be shed.
acknowledgement of inequalities and what the
environmental situation may become affirms that
globalization is disguised hegemony. Hegemony loosely
translated means the “capacity of dominant classes to
persuade [often through force] others to accept, adopt,
and internalize their values and norms”.
There are common threads that link humans together
because of globalization, however the outcomes vary.
They depend on whether your homeland is considered to
have economic stability and political and social
potential, and on what type of impact hegemonic entities
have had. Belmore throws back this shared history that
in diverse ways affects everyone for reflection.
inform our assumptions and perceptions of the world we
live in. It is, in my opinion, inherent within us. Not
in a scripted way with a historical cultural traits that
define the conventions of ethnicity.
Culture identity is encoded in memory, and inscribed in
our psyches. As Belmore embarks on creating work that
references global conditions, she speaks with an
Indigenous global consciousness, while expressing
resilience. This resilience comes from Belmore’s
Aborginality – her inherent culture, from which she
draws her voice to speak about global concerns.
Fountain is a warning of sorts.
However it also carries the message of cleansing,
renewal and possibility. As we are exposed to her
apparition, through the wall of falling water that
intoxicates viewers, she effectively reminds us that
despite history and present day hegemonic globalization
“we are water, we are blood…we are all connected.”
“Fountain of Truth”,
Bailey, Scott Watson, “Introduction in Rebecca Belmore – Fountain
(British Columbia: Kamloops Art Gallery, The Morris and
Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2005),9.
Lee-Ann Martin, “The Waters of
Venice: Rebecca Belmore at the Venice Biennale” in
Canadian Art, Summer, 2005,
Scott Watson & Rebecca Belmore,
“Interview” in Rebecca Belmore – Fountain
(British Columbia: Kamloops Art Gallery, The Morris and
Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2005),27.
Ulf Hannerz, “Scenarios for
Peripheral Cultures” in Culture, Globalization,
and the World-System, edited by Anthony D. King
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
Author Unknown, “Global Water
Shortage Looms in New Century” in Arizona Water
Resource, Volume 8, #3, November – December,