Exhibition Critiquing Water Pollution Shut Down In Beijing
By Christie Wong
Chinese authorities have shut down an exhibition by a Shenzhen-based artist and activist who goes by the pseudonym “Nut Brother.”
The show was staged to raise awareness of water contamination due to unbridled industrial development in parts of the country. In June, the artist traveled to Xiaohaotu in northwestern Shaanxi province, where residents have been complaining to local authorities for more than ten years about water quality and regulation. Nut Brother filled 10,000 plastic bottles bearing the Nongfu Spring label—the largest drinking-water brand in China—with murky, polluted water from the area, and featured 9,000 of these collected bottles in a display modeled after supermarket shelves, which was unveiled on a street in Beijing’s 798 Art District on June 20. The artist chose to use the Nongfu Spring brand (nongfu means “farmer”) to highlight the plight of villagers who have no access to clean water.
After becoming aware of Nut Brother’s display, the Nongfu Spring Company filed a trademark infringement complaint, leading the Beijing Administration of Industry and Commerce to shut down the exhibition and confiscate most of the bottles two weeks after they were installed.
Though the 798 exhibition had been shut down, Nut Brother still had 1,000 remaining bottles of contaminated water, which he drove around and displayed in a van until local officials charged him with illegal parking and driving without a licence, and so seized the rest of his bottles.
However, officials in Yulin of Shaanxi province responded to the furor by publicly confirming initial test results revealing that ten of 11 drinking water sources around Xiaohaotu are polluted with dangerous levels of iron and manganese.
On July 7, the Yulin Environmental Protection Bureau announced that a new water supply network would be in place for Xiaohaotu by the end of the month. Additionally, investigations are being made into the three coalmines and the Sinopec-owned gas field in the area, which have long been suspected to be the source of the contamination. The companies that own these sites have been ordered by the Bureau to suspend operations until further notice.
This is not the first time Nut Brother has merged art with environmental activism. In 2015, he walked the streets of Beijing with a vacuum cleaner, sucking dust and other particles from the air, and then made a brick from the collected debris to draw attention to the problem of air pollution.
Christie Wong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.
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