Highlighting Water Pollution with 10,000 Plastic Bottles
Dec 28 2018
A Chinese artist has attempted to raise awareness surrounding water pollution in rural parts of the country with an exhibition comprised of 10,000 plastic bottles containing contaminated water. The artist, known only by his pseudonym ‘Brother Nut’, launched his campaign in June by filling 10,000 bottles with yellowish water from the county of Xiaohaotu, Shaanxi province, and displaying them in a Beijing alley.
The authorities soon clamped down on Brother Nut’s installation, claiming trademark infringement (Brother Nut had used a popular brand of bottled water in his exhibition) and confiscating the majority of the bottles. When the artist tried to take the remainder on tour, he was again prevented from doing so - this time accused of driving without a license and parking illegally.
An underpublicized issue
China’s struggle with environmental problems is well-documented. The country’s reliance on coal as its main energy source meant that as recently as 2011, Chinese power plants emitted as much nitrogen oxides (NOx) as all the passenger cars in the world. For their part, the government have taken heed of public calls for action and over the last five years, it appears the country has entered a new era in air quality monitoring.
However, the equally concerning issue of water pollution has comparatively flown under the radar - something which Brother Nut planned to remedy with his project. “People have focused more on air pollution, because smog is easy to spot. But not much attention has been put on water.”
In Xiaohaotu county, local residents have been up in arms about the state of their water for over a decade. In 2005, the Huabei oil and gas company (a subsidiary of industry behemoth Sinopec) began operations to drill for fossil fuels in the area, leading to concerns from the local population that the water used for human and animal consumption had become compromised.
Although Brother Nut’s exhibition was censored by the government, it did raise sufficient awareness for Huabei to cease operations temporarily and the county environmental bureau to look into the issue. After taking samples from water supplies, they concluded that there were heavy metals such as manganese and iron present in the water at as much as 4.2 times the level deemed safe for consumption.
A serial art activist
It’s not the first time that Brother Nut has drawn attention to environmental issues through his work. In 2015, he collected enough dirt and dust from the atmosphere of public locations in order to build a brick from the smog, while this year he had attempted to host a heavy metal music concert on the Xiaohaotu site to demonstrate the heavy metal pollution of its water. In order to circumvent laws prohibiting such events he had planned to have an audience comprised solely of sheep, but apparently could not find a single one to meet his purposes.
Such art activism was once common throughout China, leading to the global success of individuals like Ai Weiwei, but a recent clampdown on the medium from President Xi Jinping has reduced its ubiquity. Indeed, Brother Nut will only publish his work under his pseudonym for fear of reprisals if he uses his real name.
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