What the Water Underground is becoming

Riparian Dispossesd choir singing

The Riparian Dispossessed Choir sings "Can You Hear the Beaver Slap" at the finale of "The Gold Fish, or, Straight Flushes for the Manifestly Destined" at the Crocker Museum last weekend

I first introduced the Water Underground in the title of a 1999 zine sampling indigenous land/water struggles at Black Mesa and Bay Area watersheds, and my first thoughts toward new water cultures. Since then, temporary configurations of writers, plumbers, gardeners etc. have taken on the mantle of the Water Underground, through work as Greywater Guerrillas, and as collaborators on the anthology Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground (Soft Skull, 2007). Most recently, the Water Underground has convened the Hydro Laboratory and staged an epic musical production of The Gold Fish, or, Straight Flushes for the Manifestly Destined, a play Oskar Cole and I wrote while on tour with Dam Nation in 2007.

Through these collaborations the Water Underground has discovered itself to be SIMULTANEOUSLY

* the actual underground water carrying minerals and toxins beneath the city,
* the actual underground water carrying minerals and toxins beneath the city,
* the dispersed local water justice struggles across the globe,
* the eco-hydological interactions among entities in a given watershed—rocks, animals, plants, microorganisms,
* a loose and variously-membered cadre of artists, scientists, and water activists,
* and finally, the revolutionary hope for water to rise.

The Water Underground thinks the human and nonhuman are ACTUALLY COLLABORATING—for example: people and salmon, bears and salmon and trees, people and dolphins. Humans can choose to participate in this space open for collaboration. Joining the Water Underground is a way to accept the invitation always open on the part of the eco-hydrosphere.

Here’s how we framed that invitation in order to recruit singers for the musical The Gold Fish, or Straight Flushes for the Manifestly Destined:

Who tests the currents?
Who reads the rain?
Who sings for the river?
Who stands by the salmon?
It could be you!

Upcoming wild ensemble piece at Crocker Museum in Sacramento, titled “The Gold Fish, or, Straight Flushes for the Manifestly Destined.” A one-act slapstick musical in which a poor wayfaring Salmon has to pawn her eggs to gamble for river passage, a Water Nymph casino dealer confronts its water-wars PTSD, the Army Chorus of Engineers gets lost, the Water Tycoon’s dirty dealing ends in cataclysmic wash-out, and the Riparian Dispossessed Choir arises.

(A little background:

Last summer, Nicole Antebi and Enid Baxter-Blader of the art-water media book Water, CA invited us to stage The Gold Fish at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, as part of the exhibit Liquid Assets (which runs through December). We recruited filmmaker Sarolta J. Cump to direct, and performance artists J. Dellecave and Qilo Matzen to play the roles of Water Nymph and Tycoon of the Ages (Oskar Cole played the Coho Salmon). Oskar turned the minimalist 3-actor short into a one-act musical, complete with a Ghost Crocodilian (Stormy Knight), Singing River (Ivy Jeanne McLellan), Army Chorus of Engineers, and Riparian Dispossessed Choir. )

Here are some more shots from the show:

Singing river and ghost croc sing "I'm gonna be a Waterfall"

As the play opens, a barmaid with a big dream and the ghost croc who's seen it all sing "I'm Gonna Be A Waterfall" while the Water Nymph and Salmon look on

To the tune of Peggy Seeger’s “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer”:

lyrics for waterfall song

The Salmon must trade her eggs for chips, then win her way upstream by playing Crapjack. A Water Nymph, traumatized by the water wars, deals estuaries, sewers, storm drains, and dams, which appear on the screen as the cards are laid down.

“Oh Dam! Hoover! I’m stuck here!”, laments the Salmon while the Army Chorus of Engineers prepares to sing “The End”.

Army chorus toasting "the end"

The Army Chorus of Engineers toasts the end of rivers running free


....then gets lost and needs to survey. A hermit crab plays piano while the Ghost Croc looks on.

hermit crab on piano and night heron on bass

The black crowned night heron plays bass.

Ghost Croc: “Some of these boys used to love the swamp, even knew their way around a little. But one way or another these boys dragged us all here.”

salmon collapses, engineers are lost

The Salmon is dealt a turbine, gets the bends, and collapses.

The Water Nymph wonders why there’s not a single wild card in the deck, and decides to shuffle.

tycoon tap dancing

Tycoon, tap dancing: "I'm the only one who gets to shuffle around here! Back me up, will you boys?"


~ by waterunderground on October 24, 2011.

3 Responses to “What the Water Underground is becoming”

  1. Hope you take the show on the road! The rest of the world should see it.

  2. this is a fabulous site. many thanks.
    a long time ago, +30 years , an older lady in Bell, CA showed me around her garden where she was watering into a deep clay pipe with a cover. Her husband had placed several, many many feet into the ground ,and used these to water the garden infequently thru the summer. She explained they mostly caught water in winter and kept the plants growing thru most of the growing season.
    Silly me, I knew something was important about this but did not take notes photos or write down her address. She was at least 80 then.

    Any ideas? suggestions for developing something similar.

    There was no swale area, nor a trench, berm or pond of any kind.
    the ground was flat. There were no catchment drains, roof water diverters or water containers.

    • If the pipe went down into clayey soil, then the pipe probably stayed full for a while, and water seeped slowly through the pipe into the subsoil. You can do this with pipes, or, as I learned from Santa Clara pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzel, with narrow-necked clay pots. With the pots, in a hot, dry climate, you need to water once a week or less.

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