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On Water

Water is such an integral part of our existence that it is no wonder that we include references to water in language and in our environments in the form of fountains, paintings, sculpture, and audio/visual media. The Romans incorporated water fountains into their water distribution systems; many of these fountains were ingeniously run by gravity - and served both practical and aesthetic functions in the dry mediterranean climate. It was a perfect mix of function and aesthetics.

At the very least fountains delineate space, raise humidity, mask noise, and act as focal points for people to gather. On an aesthetic level they can be metaphors for nature. They can be considered as bonsai and suiseki practiced with water instead of trees and rocks. Just as looking at a bonsai tree can evoke a forest, or viewing a suiseki arrangement can evoke a distant island in a calm sea, viewing a fountain can evoke a bubbling brook, a meandering stream, or a cascading waterfall. However, unlike bonsai and suiseki, the fountain does not need to mimic nature and in fact can behave in ways that are not observable in natural bodies of water. Our connection to water is so deeply embedded in our psyches that we still tie-in to an experience that has no direct analog in nature.

Are fountains 'art mimicking nature' or 'nature mimicking art'? A vertical water spray produced by a certain type of spray nozzle appears in many fountains but has no dual in nature. Yet the 'fountain bamboo' (fargesia nitida, cultivar nymphenburg) has thin canes that bend over in a spray-like manner with leaves mimicking in plant form the myriad spray droplets of this self same fountain nozzle. In a light wind fargesia nitida visually "becomes" a water spray. Reality and illusion blur.

Water is a powerful primal force. Watching moving water can calm or energize us, can trigger emotions and forgotten memories, transform us, put our "now" into perspective, and transport us to distant mental lands. One can think of water as a medium of expression that can be used like "paint": vermilion swirled with aquamarine blue using a twirling brush.

One can also think of water as a dynamic sculptural medium. Think, for instance, of a water sheet that metaphorically dances in time to music; or consider a water surface with evolving patterns of interacting waves; or think of a waterbell sheet that shape-shifts in synchrony to the movement of dancers; or think of percolating patterns of water and air flowing behind a translucent screen. Each of these behaviors do not exist in nature, per se, but can resonate with shared consciousness in viewers of the phenomena.

Nature-based phenomena can also be abstracted in miniature to provide a more one-to-one (analogous) fountain experience. One example is a miniature stylized stream bed with cyclic flows; another is a miniature "shoreline" with time-of-day varying waves lapping up to the simulated shore; and yet another is a Zen garden where moving water replaces raked patterns in sand. (We made the first version of a Zen analog fountain in 1993.)

Some of the Ways We Work with Water
Click "Here" to see some video examples of our water art effects

Water Sheets

water bell art fountain

The shape of our water bells can be varied from energetic shape-changes to subtle, slowly evolving forms to fit an intended mood; or a water bell can change shape in response to music or dance. Depending upon specific nozzle or weir design, various other water sheet shapes can be generated and made to dynamically change shape over time.

Water Walls

water wall detail

Our waterwalls generate a range of patterned effects varying from a profusion of evolving bubbles to undulating streams of water. The dynamic behavior of our patented waterwalls is mesmerizing and captivating to watch. The walls also generate harmonious bubbling sounds that visually correlate with the myriad water and air bubbles percolating down the wall.

Water Surfaces

dynamic wave interaction A focus of our work revolves around dynamically evolving interaction of waves on a water surface. Our wave interaction studies were initially inspired by Fountain Kinetics' principal Gary Fisher's previous work in holography (which deals with interactions of stationary wavefronts) and have conceptual connections to Chaladni figures in acoustics. Wave behavior effects can range from subtle and contemplative to highly dynamic and energizing. Depending on wave periodicities and interspersion of still and moving surfaces, time compression or expansion can influence perceptual responses to the wave phenomena.

Some understanding of our philosophical approach to wave interaction as a water art medium can be gleaned by reading the following passage from Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar. While writing on the behavior of ocean waves, Calvino comments that "... you cannot observe a wave without bearing in mind the complex features that concur in shaping it and the other, equally complex ones that the wave itself generates. These aspects vary constantly, so each wave is different from another wave, even if not immediately adjacent or successive; in other words, there are some forms and sequences that are repeated, though irregularly in time and space." [Italo Calvino, 1983, Mr. Palomar: A Harvest Book; Harcourt Brace & Co. New York: pg. 4; (translated from Italian)].

Water Droplets

An interesting melding of physical phenomena is used to couple wave interaction with generation of hemispherical water droplets on a water surface. These droplets of water, generated by a droplet mechanism, float on the water surface supported by several microns of air, and follow wave patterns across the water surface of a display. Owing to the index of refractions at the droplets' water-air-water interfaces, the droplets appear as sparkling "diamonds", each of which may coalesce to form larger glittering hemispherical forms. The result when viewed over time is emotionally engaging, captivating and centering.

Glimmering

Glimmering can add an additional three-dimensional quality to the wave interaction phenomena that we generate. Generation of glimmering effects require wave propagation to be matched to the properties of the fountain wave reservoir and also depend on the properties of the illuminating lighting. We in essence generate a dynamic set of concave and convex water "lenses" that interact and constructively form irregular patterns much as you would observe by looking at the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.

Functional Art

In the functional art arena we have developed sound technologies which are embedded in fountains which can offer relief to those suffering from tinnitus (ringing in the ears). While the fountains are visually appealing, they can aid in tinnitus habituation, residual inhibition, and masking, and can be used as an adjunct to tinnitus retraining therapy and other treatment schemes. You may see a few of these fountains here or you can visit our Sound Fountains Site for a more in-depth treatment of tinnitus and the technology.

We are also developing conceptual designs for indoor modernist furniture which incorporate programmatically evolving water elements as integral components of their design.

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text copyright © 2008-2012 Gary Fisher
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