Reading the River

The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland

The importance of water for all life on our planet is the point of departure for the work of pioneering American eco-artist, Basia Irland (b. 1946). In her pioneering inter-disciplinary practice she focuses on rivers and watersheds, water scarcity, climate change, ecological restoration and waterborne diseases. Her poetic, socially-engaged work endeavours to reconnect people with their local waterways in order to foster care, appreciation and responsibility.

The objects the artist creates are often reliquaries of actions. They contain the memories of participatory projects dedicated to the mutual interconnectedness of people and all phenomena within the cosmos. Many works bear witness to a nomadic worldview with a deep understanding of different cultures.

Foundation projects in Irland’s oeuvre include the Gathering of Waters river treks which reconnect diverse communities with their local waterways through collaboration; and Waterborne Disease Scrolls in which she brings attention to life-endangering diseases found in contaminated water in India, Nepal and Egypt.

Since 2007, the artist has created her iconic, Ice Books in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East. These are ephemeral, time-based sculptures carved from ice and embedded with a ‘text’ consisting of local native seeds. When placed into the river, they melt and the seeds are released contributing to the ecological restoration of riparian environments.

This extensive publication encompasses over 30 years of Irland’s work, and includes essays by ecologists, art historians and notable curators such as Lucy Lippard and Amanda Boetzkes.

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