The Elixir of Life: An Invitation

Guest blog by Jodi Enos-Berlage, Biology Professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa

Water—one of the simplest molecules on earth, is the basis for all life, and this requirement is non-negotiable. The great mystery then, is how we humans have allowed this sacred molecule to become the most polluted substance on earth, and what we should do to solve this problem.

Six years ago, an ISU Extension representative called me to ask if I would be interested in leading a water quality monitoring effort in an impaired waterhshed in Northeast Iowa. I was a scientist and an educator who grew up on a farm. I had read about the many water quality problems in Iowa. In fact, I lived in this impaired watershed, and knew my farm might be contributing to the problem. I said yes.

What began as project to collect water quality data evolved into something much bigger—sharing data and forming relationships with local farmers, using that data to secure funding for water quality improvement practices, developing a three-week, water-focused laboratory in my microbiology course, six years of water quality research involving over 15 undergraduate students, eight presentations and publications, and finally, an amazing collaboration with a dancer, a musician, and a cinematographer at Luther College that resulted in Body of Water. I now invite you to experience this unique work.

Body of Water is an original, unique performance that intermixes dance, music and video components. Art and science are intentionally interwoven to create an end product more powerful than the sum of its parts. The overall goal was to reveal the sacredness of this essential molecule and elixir of life. No one in our group was aware of a precedent for this type of performance, so it was a real experiment.  While the videos, many of which I narrate, tell the story of the essentialness of water for life, its geographic connectivity, its chemistry and biology, and the major pollutants that impact both surface and groundwater, the dancers and musicians produce complementary and novel movements that provide the basis for emotional and human connection.  We spent hours interviewing various stakeholders about water–this informed the performance, and some of their visual and audio clips are included.  Local and state water issues, both agricultural and urban, are highlighted.  The reverence that Native American populations have consistently and powerfully exhibited for this precious resource also inspired the work.

Notably, the purpose of the performance was not to take any particular position, e.g., a regulatory or voluntary approach, mainly because no matter where someone might stand on this spectrum, it has a divisive effect.  Our goal was to create a performance that would unite, through an informational, and perhaps more importantly, emotional and spiritual experience. Based on the audience responses at the multiple sold out shows at Luther College, and at the subsequent Grinnell Summer Arts Festival, we are humbled by the outcome.  The audience we attracted at Luther was one of the most diverse ever in terms of a performance, and included members of agricultural, urban, and conservation groups, scientists and artists, educators and students, and community members and leaders. It is our sincere hope that the performance at ISU will attract a similarly diverse audience.

We are incredibly excited to be partnering with a group of Ames High School students—the Bluestem Institute—for the pre-performance, as the creative work of our young people provides the greatest inspiration. These students will be presenting the beautiful products of their year-long research and service learning project focused on water. We have much to learn from them.

Ultimately, we acknowledge Body of Water as a prayer to return to a right relationship with the earth—recognizing that our own success is not dependent our abilities to control or dominate, but on our abilities to harmonize and see ourselves as a part. In this spirit, we are freely contributing our energies to spread this message. There is no charge for admission and we hope you will be inspired to attend.

Body of Water will be presented as a part of Art of Water 2016 on March 23 at CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa

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