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Images of Tainted Water Make Art from Eco Disaster

Kevin Cooley’s 'Golden Prospects' sounds an alarm in this era of multiple water crises.

All images courtesy of the artist

Sickly yellow streams of polluted water flow across the monitors of Kevin Cooley’s Golden Prospects, the second installment of the artist's Water Rites series. Commissioned and presented by the Yerba Buena Center for the ArtsGolden Prospects tells the story of the 2015 Cement Creek incident, in which the Environmental Protection Agency mistakenly destroyed an integral dam, unwittingly releasing three million gallons of yellow, lead-contaminated mine wastewater into the water sources of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Cooley captures the catastrophe with his lens in on-site footage of polluted saffron waters and noxious gilded rocks. These images in turn comprise the artist’s own rivers in the form of two flowing sequences of screens, the artificiality of which plays upon the dangerous balance of nature and human interference.


Cooley’s work has long exhibited an environmental bent, especially in regards to water issues—his 2015 work, Fallen Water, the first in his Water Rites series. Golden Prospects, however, marks, “the first time he has responded directly to a specific event,” says Yerba Buena Curatorial Assistant Susie Kantor. Cooley's choice of focus is an extremely timely one, especially the in context of other recent water crises, such as the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and the ongoing water shortages across California. With these images, Cooley reifies and dramatizes the problem of water pollution, urging his audience towards a greater awareness of where our water comes from.

Below, the stained streams of Golden Prospects.

Golden Prospects runs until April 3 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Find more of Kevin Cooley's work on his website.


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