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Tasting Water/Knowing Water

November 5, 2021 at 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

2021 Canal Convergence Art Festival, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

In August 2021, the U.S. government declared a Tier 1 water shortage for the Colorado River. The droughts and population growth that contributed to this declaration have, over the past two decades, convinced municipal water providers that it’s time for a new approach to water provisioning: direct potable reuse (AKA water recycling). Water recycling takes wastewater and uses advanced treatment technologies to clean the water to drinking water standards. However, this technological approach is not yet fully approved by regulators in states like Arizona. As technology seeks to further intervene in — and increasingly divorce people from —where their water comes from, what role does people’s embodied knowledge play in how individuals and groups understand and care for their water supply?

Arizona State University (ASU) presented an exhibit exploring the future taste of water at Scottsdale's 2021 Canal Convergence art festival. The exhibit was a self-guided water tasting that ran between programmed, guided workshops. Inspired by artistic endeavors that activate multiple sensory modes to invite people to reconsider the present (e.g. smog meringues), the exhibit presented a self-guided tasting and smelling journey from the current water provisioning system that helped participants imagine what they hope the water system of the future will be like. Participants were invited to use smell or taste to learn about the current water system, improving their ability to link the flavors of their water with the ecosystem it comes from. They left tokens reflecting their unique experience alongside those of other participants. This programming demonstrates that the technological and scientific reshaping of everyday aesthetic experiences of tasting and smelling are not set in stone, but rather can be sites for intervention in human and more-than-human futures.

Funding from the EHCN allowed us to expand the Taste of Future Water workshop to improve programming for participants who visit the exhibit when workshops are not running.