Under the water was sand, then rocks, miles of rocks, then fire
When Wright was fifteen, she and a friend snuck into a closed reservoir and accidentally slipped underwater beneath its frozen surface. Wright suffered from a week-long bout of hypothermia, which she kept secret from her mother to avoid getting into trouble for wandering where she shouldn’t have been. It is not new for Wright to subject her body to treacherous conditions (other works find her covered in bees, jumping through glass, and crying in public), and the reimagining of her adolescent incident is slow and sublime, if harrowing.
The video is projected on a tilted screen surrounded by hanging boxes of night-blooming jasmine. The gallery space is dark and labyrinthine, filled with that flower’s distinct, gardenia-like summertime smell, and visitors are forced to maneuver the space delicately. Every evening at 5:30, the lights turn on, the video stops looping, and the jasmine blooms—unwitting performers—close. Admittedly, a bit of magic is dispelled when this happens, but if you are not opposed to just gazing at flowers, it helps to remember Under the water . . . is, more than a revisited memory or physical feat, an examination of duality: tropical plants and Northeastern ice, cold water and fiery heat, evening and daytime. All this serves as a reminder of the fleeting, melancholic transience that is part and parcel of existence. In his book The World Grows Round My Door, David Fairchild, lover of tropical plants, wrote, “Every living thing changes all the time, and it is amazing, man’s power to forget what tree stood just there and which vine here.” Like the memory of excruciatingly cold water hitting your skin or the fleeting scent of a flower, everything is real until it disappears.