'The memory of Water', Genesis Báez, Raúl Díaz Reyes, Frances Gallardo, Evelyn Rydz, Lina Puerta

Artists: Genesis Báez, Raúl Díaz Reyes, Frances Gallardo, Evelyn Rydz, Lina Puerta

Dates: May 08th to July 15th 2021

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Curator: Susanna V. Temkin

Artists: Genesis Baez, Raúl Díaz Reyes, Frances Gallardo, Evelyn Rydz, Lina Puerta.

The Memory of Water is a group exhibition featuring five artists whose practices explore aqueous imprints on history, the imagination, and the physical world. The show draws its title from French immunologist Jacques Benveniste’s 1988 theory on the capacity of water to retain “memory” at the molecular level. Though controversial within the scientific community, Benveniste’s proposal reignited interest in the metaphysical possibilities of water, particularly as related to healing and remembrance.[1]  Such renewed attention reflects long-standing traditions and cross-cultural beliefs about water and its properties, including the origins of memory in Western society as linked to the mythological river Mnemosyne of the Greek underworld.[2] In The Memory of Water, the second of Galería Ponce+Robles exhibitions dedicated to the four elements, artists Genesis Báez, Raúl Díaz Reyes, Frances Gallardo, Lina Puerta, and Evelyn Rydz present works that visibilize the sensorial and perceptual experiences of water and watery phenomena, and their impact on collective and personal narratives. Echoing water’s shape-shifting ability to move between the forms of solid, liquid, and gas, their artwork evince a range of media including sculpture, textile, photography, printmaking, and video.


Broadly interested in meteorological patterns, Frances Gallardo explores the nature of hurricanes, powerful systems of water and wind with which she is intimately familiar, having been raised in Puerto Rico. In Carmella, Gallardo borrows from the convention of naming tropical storms, a practice that first arose in the 1950s and is today supervised by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). According to the WMO, this system was originally intended “to help in the quick identification of storms…because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.”[3]  In addition to serving as an aide-de-memoire, this practice additionally humanizes these potentially destructive, if natural, systems. Indeed, part of a larger body of cut-paper collages named after the artist’s family and friends, Gallardo’s Carmella converts the swirling abstractions of satellite imagery into an individual portrait.


Gallardo similarly borrows from scientific mapping in the two tondo-shaped works from her series, The Unnamed. As suggested by their titles, these textile-based pieces depart from works like Carmella in that they depict storms that were never assigned a formal name, despite reaching hurricane status. Gallardo honors these seemingly forgotten weather events by memorializing their “lives”  through embroidered lines that chart the paths of hurricanes in a given geographical region.  Their trajectories are stitched into blue cotton and reflective silk, materials that reference the sea. These lines at times intersect before veering off into various curving directions, their abstract designs encoding an archival palimpsest of hurricane histories.


While Gallardo explores systems of naming,  Raúl Díaz Reyes’s installation Splash! Splosh! Ba-wooosh! considers how water and the experience of liquidity shapes language. The work centers on an aquatic vocabulary identified by the artist in dialogue with the acclaimed draftsman Mogorrón, who has created work for Marvel and DC comics. Noting how the sensorial qualities of water are seemingly embedded within the onomatopoeic sounds of such words as Bwas! GluGlu! and those of the title, Díaz Reyes extends this into the visual through the development of graphic signs.  Carved from wood, these playful inventions invoke both symbolic and pictorial depictions of drips, drops, splashes and other liqueous behaviors. In conflating sounds, sights, and other perceptual qualities, they draw on the reservoirs of memory to propose a synesthetic approach to the materiality of water.


Whereas Díaz Reyes’ installation invites viewers to recall imagined sounds, a peaceful trickle is emitted by Lina Puerta’s Island of Langerhans sculpture, presented on the landing of the Ponce+Robles gallery. An example from the artist’s Fountains series, the piece features running water that is pumped through a fanciful, faux natural environment created from found materials, artificial plants, and hand-made porcelains contained within a vintage suitcase. Island of Langerhans derives its title from a group of cells within the pancreas that are responsible for the production of insulin. Tellingly, in his treatise on water, philosopher Gaston Bachelard references the elements as “hormones of the imagination,” citing water as the most “complete poetic reality.”[4]


Such internal processes, as well as the conception of the body as an aquatic landscape, are carried forth into Puerta’s other sculptural work on view, Cliff. The hybridized anatomic and botanical forms of Island of Langerhans and Cliff reference Puerta’s belief in the interconnectedness of the body within nature, as well as the systems required to keep both functioning in balance. These principles guide much of her practice, including her more recent mixed media tapestries series which explore environmental and agricultural cycles. Thus, with its shimmering blue surface, her Untitled (Turquoise), composed of an assemblage of fabrics, lace, velvet, sequins and butterfly wings, recalls the essential role of water in the life cycle, responsible for both sustaining life, as well as its eventual rot and regeneration. Significantly, this balance between the creative and destructive properties of water are involved in the very making of this series, which requires a wet method that allows Puerta to shape and manipulate paper pulp to build her textural surfaces. Like an archaeological site, the exposed layers uncover cross-sections of materials and processes embedded within the work.


Multidisciplinary artist Evelyn Rydz similarly uses water as part of her artistic practice, turning to rivers and oceans as both pictorial source and physical material. Newly created for The Memory of Water, her large-scale Open Oceans Together/Apart is composed of photographs pieced together to simulate the flow of water across the gallery floor. Cut into variously shaped forms, each photograph reflects the surface of bodies of water from across the Americas, ranging from rivers and tributaries in the Boston area where Rydz lives and works, to the

to the coasts of Colombia and Cuba, the regions from which her family is from.  Such sources not only reference the artist’s own personal biography, but also speak to larger histories of im/migration, trade, and industry, as well as the particularities of climate. As a whole, these images form a new body of water that speaks to global connections; yet, as intimated by the work’s title, each nevertheless maintains its individual nature. Such internal tensions are illustrated by the waves and currents that are arranged so as to move in different directions from one another, endowing the piece with a sense of tense dynamism.


Similar effects are also evident within Rydz’s Aguas Dulces/Aguas Saladas, smaller scale collages hung on the wall.  Like Open Oceans, these works also combine various photographic images of marine surfaces as well as watercolor.  This addition references Rydz’s wider process of working between artistic mediums, in which she translates photographs into watercolors and painstakingly created drawings. In Aguas Dulces/Aguas Saladas, the two media are combined and layered to produce an ombre effect.  Rydz embellishes these surfaces through the addition of saltwater, which dissolves into organic and crystalline patterns. As literal stains, they further allude to the histories – and traumas – embedded within water.


Photographer Genesis Báez expresses a formal interest in water in its mutable forms, capturing the element in some of its most ephemeral states, including as mist, breath, clouds, and dew.

As a diasporic artist who moves between the northeastern United States and Puerto Rico, she is a witness to vast swings in temperature changes and its effects on water, which at times reflects a metaphoric surrogate for the artist’s own fluidity between places and cultures. This is the case with an image like  Condensation (San Juan Airport), in which the light of daybreak refracts off a ring of condensation formed on an airport window, emphasizing the literal and liminal boundaries between inside and outside, liquid and gas, night and day, here and there. Although Báez’s photographs seemingly fix such fleeting moments on film, the artist remains aware of the impermanence of both the medium of photography as well as water itself. Indeed, this is the subject of the work, Held Together, taken in a botanica in the Bronx, New York, in which the effects of humidity speak to the ravages of time on photographs and papers carefully taped and hung in a window.


The concepts of memory, preservation, and nostalgia are further explored in Báez’s short video, Holding Water, which despite its title, features no water at all. Instead, the work centers on two concrete shards from a building, painted in a cerulean tone. Though not identified in the video, these architectural fragments are from Báez’s collection of “Water Objects,” consisting of pieces of glass, string, rocks, and other found odds and ends which she keeps in her studio.  Passed between hands old and young in the video, the fragments, like Proust’s madeleine, draw forth memories as they are touched and caressed. As voices recount personal stories, the blue shards seem to convert to water.  As presented throughout the works in The Memory of Water, this transformational capacity reflects the power of water to retain histories, leave physical and emotional traces, heal traumas, and resound in the minds, heart, and ears.

[1] Philip Ball. “The Memory of Water.” Nature. October 8, 2004.  https://www.nature.com/news/2004/041004/full/news041004-19.html (accessed March 2021).

[2] Select souls drank from the Mnemosyne’s waters to preserve the memory of life, from which the word “mnemonic” is derived.  Perhaps less fortunate souls drank from the river Lethe, thereby forgetting their moral existence.

[3] “Tropical Cyclone Naming.” World Meteorological Organization. https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/focus-areas/natural-hazards-and-disaster-risk-reduction/tropical-cyclones/Naming (accessed March 2021).

[4] Gaston Bachelard. Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter. Trans. Edith R. Farrell (Dallas: Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1999), p. 15.