Aquapuncture: An Interactive Exploration of Santa Cruz County’s Watersheds is the culmination of two years of research on water in Santa Cruz County, California. The title for the project served as a guide for how I wanted to propose water solutions for the county. It is a blended word combining aqua – the Latin word for water, and acupuncture – the Chinese medicinal practice of relieving stress in the body. Taken as a whole, the title symbolizes the idea of affecting the maximal positive reaction in the ecosystem through minimal pressure, perfectly placed.
The project was implemented as a digital art installation with a touchscreen interactive map as the focal point. The map was host to various spatial data layers relating to water, and was also a means to deliver photos and visualizations to teach participants how we can relieve stress in the natural environment and embark on a path toward a sustainable water future.
The project was meant as a challenge to the entrenched mindset in Santa Cruz that desalinating seawater is our only solution in the face of future water shortages. I suggest that the same gain in water could also be accomplished through the redesign and adaption of our landscape toward infiltration and regenerative rehydration. I asked participants to question how all of the interconnected aspects of our landscape relate water, and how we might evolve to live with these various systems in a more compassionate way. Having compassion for inert substances such as soil, rock, and water was something I was striving to encourage. As I saw it, once compassion could be established, a deeper connection and a healthy relationship would follow.
I found that many of the people who enjoyed the work most were those that told me: “I usually don’t go to art shows, but this is something I can enjoy.” I was hoping that beyond the messages about county water, people could also appreciate something that isn’t typically found in most museums and galleries. I believe there is a novel intermediate realm between an art show and a science exhibit, and I hope this helped to broaden visitors’ perception of how art and science can intermingle in a healthy way.
I invited people into the project by introducing information that contradicted commonly held assumptions and entrenched ideas. My strategy was one of inciting dialogue, and the subtle art of nudging conversation in a more healing direction. I hope this project was successful in bringing people into the conversation, demystifying the complexities of our water supply, and providing some inspiration for direct action. I realize that the discourse that took place with the work was ephemeral, and that what has been transferred into the minds of visitors may not lead to direct change on the ground. However, I resign myself in knowing that these are ideas most people need to encounter many times before they are absorbed, and before they are lived. Larger cultural shifts occur, but they take time – and I aim to make myself another voice in that move and to be a part of a more compassionate and sustainable future.
Matthew Jamieson, originally from Canada, is a recent graduate of University of Santa Cruz's Digital Arts and New Media program.