The high-ceilinged halls of Bergen Kunsthall’s 1930s functionalist building recently housed another, quite different take on functional architecture—one conjured by American artist Oscar Tuazon. Having dissected ideological, structural, and philosophical underpinnings of architecture, construction, and Minimalist sculpture throughout his career, Tuazon’s inauguration of his ongoing “Water School” in 2016 marked a turn toward more explicitly incorporating activist themes and strategies. The project consists of impromptu “schools” on the knowledge of water, physically taking place in structures modeled on Holly and Steve Baer’s dome-shaped Zome House, an experiment developed in the American Southwest in the early ’70s. Intrinsic to these houses is their capacity for being heated and cooled by sunlight and water—a technology also familiar to Indigenous architecture. Tuazon credits the 2016 Standing Rock protests and its key figures as his inspiration and teachers for “Water School,” stating that he first encountered the idea of such a phenomenon there, faced with slogans such as “Water is Life” and “Water connects us all.”
The exhibition in Bergen featured four models of wooden structures from previous iterations of “Water School”—all of which have taken place in conjunction with political battles for water and land rights in the US—at 60 percent of the original size. Built of cardboard, plywood, and tape, these appeared lightweight, situated at seemingly random intervals throughout the four rooms. Their windows are decorated with motifs of the sun and moon, trees and fire, and other subjects, which are powder-printed onto the glass. Inside one of these structures, Los Angeles Water School, 2023, a fountain built into a tree from Mount Fløyen in Bergen was peacefully circulating water and recalling the lake right outside the kunsthall’s building. As I walked in and around the models, their strange, irregular geometric structures seemed to change as I moved—sometimes appearing as shelters or playhouses, sometimes as sculptural articulations.
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