The Colour of Water
Some thoughts on the Universal Solvent
I am not at a cottage right now but I’ve been thinking about water. Thinking about the proposed settlement agreement worth nearly $8 billion that has been reached in two national class action lawsuits which include 142,000 members that was launched against the federal government by 120 First Nations living under drinking water advisories that I hear on the radio. Thinking about the indescribable colour that you see underwater through your eyelids all pink and green and grey and gold and blue at the same time darkening to purple as you go deeper and deeper. How alone it is to be in water.
I once melted a pot of fresh snow on the big cast iron stove at my friend Ruta’s studio house on Manitoulin island and then took the soft water and poured it over the white ashes of maple embers which lived in a bucket full of dry grasses. The water slowly filtered through the mesh of grasses trickling though the white ashes to form a grey sludge that over weeks would intensify into a potassium rich slurry, and after a few more filterings and slow evaporation, into home-made lye salts. Lye is one of my favourite ink-making ingredients a powerful caustic, colour shifter, and somehow both scientific and wizardly at the same time. But I was particularly interested that the recipe called for soft water and that the water from a tap was not the same as rainwater or snowmelt and that in fact water has many overlooked subtleties for the inkmaker. What exactly is water?
There is the same amount of water on Earth now as there was when the Earth was formed. Water was home to cyanobacteria who set in motion the great oxygenation event that made our planet breathable and the molecules of water that come from our taps were once drunk by Neanderthals. Water is cohesive and clear, tasteless and odourless and unlike any other molecule on our planet it lives naturally as solid, gas, and liquid. It is also the primary ingredient in natural inks. But it is not neutral.
In my own experiments I have used limestone PH shifted water, water from the Hudson River in New York, Japanese tap water, and the water from a fountain in Oaxaca City.