Last week in preparation for an article soon to be published in the June issue of Focus magazine, I spent an hour or two with Marlene Jess in her studio and later at the Centennial Park fountain.  Marlene is preparing for a performance called H2OMG at the fountain during the Off the Grid Art Crawl on June 10th.  She plans to bottle, label and “sell”  this public water to us, the public.  As a statement on the current absurdity that is the bottled water industry, the concept is rather brilliant and also extremely effective at presenting an explicit illustration of how we, as a culture, are vulnerable to the power of big business and big branding.

Marlene at the water fountain. On this day, the fountain, which is rather elaborate by any standards, was not operational. No water to drink here.

A map of car related businesses in Victoria

During the studio visit, Marlene also revealed a series of her map based works.  Maps are a method of charting her activities and her behavioural patterns.  In the case of the map pictured above, a work in progress, which shows the many many car related businesses in our city (and by extension all cities, in Canada, anyway) Marlene, points out just how dependent we are on our car addiction; how much space, time and resources are given over to the industry of the car.

Canada Food Guide map

Here she maps the pre-packaged, big industry foods that could conceivably make up a Canada Food Guide diet.  As she points out many of the illustrations in the official Food Guide look suspiciously like the products for sale in the centre aisles at our local grocery stores.

Map of everything purchased during a month

Probably the most charming map, although apologies for the poor photo quality, is the map of everything Marlene purchased over the course of a month, a month during which she was attempting to live on $10 a day.  She says she’s learned that a person needs at least $25 per day.  But I think this is one of the interesting aspects of Marlene’s practice.  She actually challenges herself to live differently than the dominant culture.  She travels by bicycle and public transit.  She drinks her portable water out of recycled glass bottles.  She tries living on next to nothing.

Most importantly, she reports on her findings, she shares her discoveries, and she encourages all of us to rethink the mainstream.