Interview with Japanese Water Artist Ichi Ikeda

Does anyone really own the earth’s water?
I remember days when I was invited to participate in the water symposium at the school in the Finger Lakes, NY. And there I found the following sentence in some booklet on watershed network; “If we pollute our water, that pollution is passed on to the Great Lakes, which hold one fifth of the world’s accessible fresh water.” What to study from this is about its awareness in daily life to combine ‘water under his/her foot’ and ‘the earth’s water’. All natural environments on the earth should be recognized as the ‘global public property’ beyond differences of limited environmental standards enacted by respective districts and nations. Standing on this important awareness, I can insist, anyone on the earth must be an owner of the earth’s water.

What are the metaphors and symbols found in water?

Water is a substance that does not conform to one’s will and therefore becomes symbiotic and contains communicative qualities. Therefore this century is often indicated as the “Age of Water” as opposed to the “Age of Fire” headed with wars and drastic growth of the 20th century. As you know, beneath its peaceful appearance, water contains the potential for destruction, a force impossible to control if set free. This is water’s dual nature. An era that supports various value systems, not one that levels off and suppresses water’s dual nature, will come. In more chaotic world it will be necessary to coexist with different levels of value and contradictory viewpoints. Water must be symbolized as alternative common language for spanning the diversities that furrow the world.

Do you have concerns with the huge dams and pollution of water in China?

I feel strong concerns over what is happening in the near future. If the pollution doesn’t reach to severe degree, the river can purify contaminated water by ability inherent in nature itself. But it is already reported that the huge dam in China caused the river to be deprived of its purifying ability. The scale of the pollution goes far beyond the extent which can be controlled and solved by all human wisdoms. A sentence comes to mind now, “Water is flowing into oneness.” This is just a global problem that will result in the great fears of all people living on the future earth.

in Water or Water Village (2007) is art or a new shelter strategy? Do you use green materials?

My art project “Water in Water” was expressed as bamboo rafts with an overall length of 100 meters moving through the river to the sea. Crew on the raft kept rowing and sending the messages of SAVE WATER. Most of my art projects seem to develop beyond boundaries between art and actual strategy. I don’t like to do ‘future art.’ What I am aiming for is to create ecological imagination shared for those living on more disturbed global environment today. In that sense, I can define my artworks as “Art for the Future” moving among art and actual strategy.
I frequently use bamboos because they keep deep relations with water-based culture. But we should not use green materials freely as our desire. When you create art, don’t make hasty decisions to waste materials, especially natural ones. Remember that materials that you are using are precious resources for the future. Actually in most cases of my artworks, we search for waste bamboo grove at first and cut down extra bamboos for conservation of grove. As the result of working for conservation, we use bamboos cut down. We who are living today need to take charge of natural resources which should be reserved for succeeding generations living on the future earth.

Can you explain your connections between water and human rights (The United Waters in Sarajevo 2006)?

The diseases related to ‘water’ are supposed to cause one child to die every 8 seconds. On the other hand some people use as much water as they like. Imagine extremely huge differences in fresh water supply lying among people in the world. Undoubtedly water is indispensable for each people living all over the world. I emphasize the importance of grasping water as the rights to live, fundamental human rights. And then, hoping to connect water and human rights, I have been stating that we all be Water Senders. Let us all be ‘Water Senders’, sending water, one of the Earth’s most precious resources, to the next generation living in the future regardless of cultural, national or religious differences and disagreements. This is supposed to be the preface of the United Waters Chapter.

Do you incorporate the ancient Romans engineering – the aqueduct?

Nowadays we don’t have room to build solid structures like the aqueduct. But we need to take interest in how to forward water to the future. And then I have been developing world-widely the idea that any place on the earth can function as the starting station for forwarding ‘water for the future’ to the next generation living on the future earth. Aiming to unit these water stations, I call this art project “Water Ekiden”, a long-term relay for forwarding water to the future earth. Water Ekiden might be regarded as the today’s invisible aqueduct.

Who is responsible for the pollution in the Shibakawa River?

The Shibakawa River, flowing north to Tokyo, must be comprehended as the sample of the pollution in the urban river crowded by houses and factories. Through a series of river conversation works, the flood problem seems to be almost solved, but the serious problem of polluted water occurred. The downstream with a length of 5.8 kilometers cut off from the mainstream became a flow-less sewer polluted ditch. Why is the pollution problem in the urban river getting too complicated to resolve? There lies big gap of awareness on pollution among community people. Now several sites of dry riverbed are under construction with the object of helping the local people to live close to the river. However dirty and ill-smelling water tend to strength unfamiliar relations with the river in their minds. Actually many local people weren’t aware of the fact that both ends of Shibakawa keep shut down. Just a complex of various awarenesses. As seen often in the urban rivers, it’s getting more difficult to point out who’s responsible for the pollution. Aiming to achieve reclamation of Shibakawa, we work together with the local communities to share the assumption that the river is not some gift given by the administrative organ but is what’s created by the community people themselves.

Why is a box the metaphor to carry water? The Native American’s used leather pouches?

It says that one person needs to have 80 liters of water per day to maintain the standard of human life to some degree. However, according to the report, three fourth of the world population can use only 50 liters of water or less because of low water supply. After my lesson on the environmental art, a high school student, one of the audience members, suggested, “ I think one box of 80 liters should be placed constantly in each house.” ‘80 liters of water’ implies ‘Water as Basic Human Right’, and is the minimum ration needed to support the daily life of each person living on the Earth. When carrying ’80 liters Water Box’ with you, you can ask not only yourself but also many people now: “More than 80 liters or less?”The box of 43 cubic centimeters must be function as one of public tools, not private belongings.

What are thoughts concerning how environmental artists are blending mythology and sustainability?

I have been trying to recall our memories of places through water which has been circulating all over the earth, and at the same time, I have tried to draw our attention to the fact that our body has been also letting in and out water for so many generations. Hoping to close up the story of ecology originating from deep relations between human life and surrounding environment, I start to search for ‘inherency and commonality’ hidden in places and plan about how to unite ‘past-present-future’. We must notice that what’s called ‘water’ is an assembly of various water flows; that is, ‘water memorizing’ for recalling our memories, ‘water purifying’ in relation with the present water condition , ‘water rejuvenating’ for the future etc. Most of environmental artists look as if they are spinning a ‘thread of time’ toward an ecologically sustainable future.

is happening at the Water’s-Eye site today (Yogyakarta 2002)?

I have stressed the importance of Water’s-Eye View, not Bird’s–Eye View for controlling the world from the upper viewpoint. Water’s-Eye View is based on symbiotic perspective that the Fundamental Human Rights of all people will be guaranteed beyond differences and disagreements lying in the world. And, starting from Yogyakarta 2002, I have developed Water’s Eye View through the exhibitions and the seminars in various sites. On 2006 a strong earthquake which shook Yogyakarta caused serious damage to people, especially children’s minds. Immediately we have started a fund-raising campaign for supporting activity for the children with severe trauma. I believe Water’s-Eye View encourages all viewers to consider the larger context in which they live, and to see how their current actions can affect the earth’s future.

What are working you now?

I’d like to introduce you one sentence of the essay written by American artist; perhaps more than any other artist, Ichi Ikeda uses water as his medium, creating a whole new language with this uncontrollable substance. For me, water is not mere substance, but a sort of language. I am firmly confident that water with symbiotic and communicative perspective must be the most effective language to head people towards an ecologically sustainable future. This belief is working me beyond various boundaries lying in the world. On May 2008 I was invited to the seminar “Unlearning Intolerance” in the United Nations Head Quarters NY. The subtitle of the seminar is “Art Changing Attitude toward the Environment.” This means that the UN Environment Programme set to enter into partnership with the environmental artists. Facing more and more serious situations on the earth, we are compelled to expand network of creative partnership with various specialists. Surely ‘water as symbiotic language’ must work people to head toward an ecologically sustainable future.

Ichi Ikeda
3-42-8 Wakamatsu, Sagamihara-shi
Kanagawa, 229-0014 JAPAN
Tel./Fax. +81-42-748-3196


Join the Global Watershed for the Children Ichi Ikeda – Born 1943. Osaka, Japan

Ichi Ikeda has worked the past 20 years to develop his artwork that is strongly connected with global environmental problems, especially water. He believes that water is the earth’s most precious resource. He has dedicated his career to raising global awareness around issues of water conservation through international conferences, community activism, public performances and interactive installations. Ikeda encourages his viewers to consider the larger context in which they live, and to see how their current actions can affect the earth’s future. He views the conscious networking of concerned individuals as a key to sustainability. Ikeda addresses these issues through both large and small-scale installations.

His art works work toward an ecological and sustainable future, are widely known as IKEDA WATER. On 1991, he was invited to produce his installation work as the most important artist in the 21th International Biennial of Sao Paulo. And on 1995, he was selected to one of the ‘12 Artists in the World’ who compose the art calendar in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. His art serves as a catalyst for change and an inspirational focal point for the exchange and circulation of information related to water conservation. He describes this new perspective on social and natural systems as the “Water’s-Eye view.”


About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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