x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

H2O=Life exhibition encourages water conservation

The New York show Water: H2O=Life is being staged by Adach with special emphasis on the desert.

In Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg nomads who wander the Sahara, aman iman means "water is life". The two words sound so similar, a sign of just how much survival rests on finding water in this hot, harsh environment.

A new exhibition at Qasr Al Hosn Cultural Quarter Hall in Abu Dhabi, opening tonight, attempts to underscore that fragile relationship through more than 90 hands-on exhibits and inspiring, interactive models.

Water: H2O=Life was originally conceived in New York's American Museum of Natural History. The objective of the exhibition is to show how water connects everyone on the planet, and how use and overuse have effects and reactions elsewhere in that system. As Eleanor Sterling, the curator of the original show in the US, put it: "We are all downstream from somebody."

The exhibition has been brought to the UAE by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. To emphasise the local relevance of the show, the exhibition includes a significant section on how desert settlements evolve and develop around their search for a steady water supply. Al Ain was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in July, and the growth of this oasis town is a prime example of this process. Sami El Masri, the deputy director general for arts, culture and heritage in the UAE, made the link, and suggested that a renewed care and regard for water is something that visitors can take away from this show.

"Abu Dhabi city has one of the highest rates of personal consumption in the world," he said, adding: "Water has always played a significant role in the emergence and prosperity of civilisations in the region."

Entering through a shimmering fog screen, which creates an atmosphere of sacred regard for the wet stuff, visitors are guided through eight different sections. H20=Life kicks off with a look at how water fosters life, with real fish and mudskippers on hand to show how they overcome the difficulties of their aquatic habitat.

The exhibition then delves into how water was carried and channelled through history, including a 1,500 year old pipe from Central America. There's also a section examining how land is sculpted by the passage of water and time. A case study of California's Mono Lake is centre stage, looking at how demand from the city of Los Angeles drained the lake to near-depletion by the late 1970s. In a historic overturn, after environmentalists took the county to court over the matter, the lake is now returning to glory - a sign that failing water tables can, with some considered thinking, be nudged back on to the right path.

The exhibition was a huge success when it opened in the US, and one of the main reasons for this is its interactive element. There's plenty to get your hands on: touchable sculptures that incorporate the three states of water at room temperature and video microscopes that present the volume of microbial life in a single drop. More than simply button-pressing, look out for the 68-inch interactive globe showing satellite imagery of the planet to illustrate the vast surface area covered by oceans, rivers and lakes.

These inspiring exhibits succeed where facts and horror stories fail. Through interaction, viewers discover for themselves the fragile state of the world's water systems. The hope is that reverence for what comes out of the tap can be reinstated - with an emphasis on individual action, on the historical hardship once so close to home, and on recognising those whose lives are overtaken by the daily toil of getting a clean glassful.

For all its high-tech showmanship, a sobering message underpins Water: H20=Life. It is a reminder that this part of the world, in the not-too-distant past, was defined by scarcity. Fortunately, that story is told with plenty of technology and visual panache. Warning: You may get wet.

Water: H20=Life is at Qasr Al Hosn Cultural Quarter Hall, Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi, from September 19 to January 5. Hours are: Saturday to Thursday, 10am-10pm; Friday 4pm to 10pm. For more information, visit waterexhibitionadach.ae