Artist William Pope.L has recently been featured in The New York Times for his “Flint Water Project,” an installation that he did for the Detroit gallery What Pipeline.
The gallery has been transformed into a Flint Water-branded boutique from where the water will be bottled and sold as art objects with Pope.L’s designed label. The project has the characteristics of much of the artist’s own approach provoking with the theatrics of performance fueled by scathing satire and heartfelt activism. The labels are created featuring the sinister image of the Flint Water Plant that reads “16 fl. oz. non-potable.” The other side of the label also notes that the water may contain E. coli, lead, and Legionella.
“Flint Water Project” began with the gallery’s owners, Alivia Zivich and Daniel Sperry, inviting Pope.L for a performance in Detroit. The idea came to Pope.L to turn the focus of the show to the nearby Flint. The residents of the area were directly exposed to drinking water contamination since 2014 as the city’s water source was redirected from Lake Huron to the nearby Flint River as a cost-saving measure. This triggered a massive public health crisis and resulted in 12 deaths from a Legionella outbreak. Yet, authorities in Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration ignored the issue for nearly two years and allegedly covered it up with the help of several state officials. The performance piece was designed to address the disintegrating bedrock of US’s presumed first-world privileges that includes drinkable tap water and the privilege of an accountable government. The project has been able to raise over $30,000 so far for the United Way of Genesee County and Hydrate Detroit. The water was finally returned to its original source in 2016, yet the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once again declared Flint’s water to be safe, but for that to be true, the city has to first stand on its promise to finish replacing the corroded pipes. And in the meantime, this has also led to unsellable homes, deeply ingrained poverty, alongside the mass lead poisoning of a generation of children with its piling up cognitive consequences that are still to be determined. To add to this misery, homeowners have all along had to continue paying for their contaminated water which amounts to one of the highest rates in the country. While on the way to Flint, Pope.L spoke of an increasingly Orwellian America. His words echoed his politics and activism as he said: “I believe there is something aesthetic about being socially engaged, being involved in your community. There’s a beauty to making work that interacts with people, and I think there’s a way to describe and talk about it — and to do it well.”
Artist William Pope.L has been recently featured in NYTimes about his piece “Flint Water Project.”