all water has a perfect memory
Mary Mattingly interviews artist Bahar Behbahani about her research-based projects that explore underground water systems and water engineering in Persian gardens, including all water has a perfect memory.
A reference to the Mississippi River, all water has a perfect memory comes from a phrase in Toni Morrison’s essay The Site of Memory: “All water has a perfect memory and it is forever trying to get back to where it was.” The focal point of the installation is an octagonal pool mounted on plastic barrels, suggesting a floating raft to be used in the event of an emergency move to the river.
Bahar Behbahani’s installation revives generated@wavehill, a program that invites artists to create temporal artwork engaging with Wave Hill’s site and programs. Initiated in 1999, past generated@wavehill projects have included both visual and performing arts commissions throughout the grounds. Behbahani was invited to engage with the Woodland and Wave Hill’s youth programs. Her response to this charge began with her interest in the underground water systems within the garden’s ecosystem and parallels the importance of water engineering in Persian gardens.
This multi-faceted initiative was informed by intensive walks taken with Wave Hill staff and workshops that she led with interns and students to discuss local and global water concerns. Behbahani collaborated with Forest Project and Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) interns who were active during the summer in the Woodland. She worked with Family Art Project’s Art, Community and Environmental Stewards (ACES), CUNY Corps and Bloomberg interns, who will continue to activate and maintain the installation throughout the fall. They have also produced a zine full of stories informed by the research they contributed.
Bahar Behbahani’s research-based practice approaches landscape as a metaphor for politics and poetics. Behbahani looks into cultural landscapes both historically and in a contemporary context, posing urgent questions that consider the ways in which people negotiate space and place. Through a range of media—such as painting, video, installation and performative talks—she excavates historiography to shift the inevitably violent interactions between knowledge and power in historic and imperial contexts to a poetic body of work.
Behbahani is a recipient of the Creative Capital award for an anticipated project Ispahan Flowers Only Once, a community garden inspired by Persian garden design, philosophy, plants and flora, which will bring people together to take part and re-activate the unseen histories by gathering and gardening.
Born in Tehran, Iran, into an artistic family of writers, painters, musicians and a puppeteer, Behbahani relocated to the US and currently works in Brooklyn, NY.