Brief as Water Falling, 2006


Brief as Water Falling is a meditation on the transient, the ephemeral, all that we cannot grasp. The work began with a video I’d taken on a hot summer’s day eighteen years ago when my then husband was spraying our three sons with water. The boys ran into the house and emerged with paper bags on their heads and for eighteen seconds they ducked and squealed, pulled the bags on and off. Those brief seconds form the basis for sixty-seven drawings and a short film.

“For brief as water falling will be death,
and brief as flower falling or a leaf,
brief as the taking and the giving,
breath…”
Conrad Aiken

While on the surface, such a delightful scene is charming and nostalgic, these captured images have been slowed to jerk and be slightly off kilter, suggesting something more complex. By stopping movements and gestures, a more ambiguous meaning emerges, alluding to uncertainties that can only be imagined. The water spray, mostly invisible and present through sound, suggests a force relentlessly surrounding us. Or perhaps the water is time itself, moving ceaselessly on.

The boys hiding in the bags with their bare legs and bodies exposed as if they were in fact protected become a metaphor for how illusory it is to hide, how few our defenses. There is an oblique reference to hoods hiding faces throughout history from Druids to dunces, the Klu Klux Klan and Abu Graib. Disguise, anonymity, abuse: ideas diametrically opposed to the idea of children playing. We hold these two opposites simultaneously, feeling the contradiction with the perspective of years.

When we see a butterfly, we see delicacy, fragility and beauty, but probably unconsciously part of the attraction is the awareness of the evanescence of this precious bit of life. To sense the briefness of its life is to acknowledge its inevitable death hovering just out of sight, almost out of mind. Part of the fascination with this fragile insect is that we can’t touch or catch it without destroying it. The butterfly flies out of our sight and we can do nothing but watch.

Superimposed over several of these images is a white butterfly floating in ghostly slow motion: both symbol of the fragile, evanescent moment that is childhood and a suggestion of death. As the observer, we know the press of the world, its dangers and sorrows that the children in those seconds of play do not. They are hiding, protecting themselves from the spray of water, but the gestures taken out of time suggest what life holds in store for us all where there is no protection.

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Brief as Water Falling, 2006 description | video
© Catherine Widgery