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Artwork > Memory of Water

MEMORY OF WATER Creative Constellation

opening night

University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, November 2006, South Africa

memory of water (introduction)
radio interview
(with Anni Snyman)
participating artists
process thoughts
memory matrix
(poem and prints)
lot's wife
memory cloths (cloth prints & beadwork)
song of songs cloths (cloth prints & beadwork)
consciousness incubators (glass vessels)
evanescence (prints and animation)
deep water (prints and animation)
body of water paintings
(digital photography prints)
meditating water
healing with water
(drinking water installation)
walking with water
jozi river of joy
(woven matts)

memory of water


This creative constellation explores the concept that water actually retains a memory of its journey around the globe. Paradoxically, in our culture, we associate water with forgetting - symbolically it 'washes away our sins'. When feeling degraded, tired or wounded, we use water actively to restore forgetfulness (balance) to our bodies. Could it be that we actually transfer our memories into the substance itself? We say that time (which can be interpreted as the flow of water through our bodies) heals all. Thus our concepts of 'healing' and 'balance' seem to be states of graceful forgetfulness, while the water contains all our collective memories.

Memory of Water – the book. Unbound book in a box documenting the artwork of Memory of Water. 60 x 42cm. 5 Editions made to order.

Vesuvian Woman

Vesuvian Woman detail- Digital Collage by Anni Snyman. View artwork...

For Dwight. Anni Snyman


Radio Interview

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Anni Snyman at the Memory of Water Creative Constellation opening event.

Anni Snyman at opening


Participating Artists

Anni Snyman in collaboration with Janine Lewis, Erica Luttich, katty vandenberghe and Retief van Wyk. An opening event with live performance and multimedia presentation activated the theme outside and inside the gallery space. Read more about the artists...

Retief van Wyk

Retief and Marileen van Wyk at the furnace.


Process Thoughts

I interpret my role as picture taker in my family as one of 'memory maker' - where my pictures eventually replace any 'real' memory any of us had of a time or occasion. In the vocabulary of my dreams, my camera and picture albums symbolise my ability to remember. Read more thoughts in process...

Fountain of Youth

Fountain of Youth 3 - Digital Photograph by Anni Snyman. View images...


Memory Matrix

Foam. Digital Photograph by Anni Snyman

‘Memory of Water’ grew out of the 'well of tears' installation at Constitution Hill (Ansisters, 2005). The following poem formed while I was preparing the well, and I knew then that I would have to explore this experience further:

the loneliness of this intense activity
     hit me
and i found myself
staring at those bits
of forgotten me
that wanted this
so she could make stuff

it's probably the wine
     or the need for rest

or the intensity of trying
to mesmerise the water
i'm mixing for the well of tears

    i wrote this poem >>>


Lot’s wife

Lot's Wife detail
Lot’s Wife salt crystals detail by Anni Snyman. Installation of Salt, rocks, brass bowl.

The story of Lot's wife - turning into a salt pillar through the act of looking back at what has been destroyed - could be read as a metaphor for aging. We associate a harking back to days gone by with the aged, and find ourselves (regardless of our stage in life) sometimes stymied by our own apparent need or desire to fix one memory or feeling in an ever-disappearing and changing experience.

We like to say that we are 80% water, but in reality this number is just an average, since a baby is almost 90% water and our water content decrease, as we grow older. Much like salt crystals form when a saturated saline solution is left standing whilst the water of the original solution evaporate.

The crystals in this installation formed over stones in a brass bowl. These stones, and selected ones in the stone whirlpool, belong to a collection of ‘Onthouklippe’ (Memory Rocks) three generations of my family (my father, myself and my daughter) have picked up, on various travels over the years. Intended as concrete memories, they have become uneasy reminders of what we have forgotten.

Installation: stones, salt, brass bowl. 1,5 x 1,5 m


Memory Cloths

memory cloth detail
Memory Cloth : Gift of Speech detail by Anni Snyman. Final artwork includes beadwork by Boitumelo on digitally printed fabric. 202 x 42cm. In collaboration with Erica Luttich and Boitumelo. View artworks...

Our oldest instincts are to revere water, especially in any of its natural states. However, in our daily lives we do not have to fetch it from a deep well or a river in order to live. Sadly, when it just pours from a tap when we open it, sanitised (devoid of life), we lose respect for it, and with that loss also experience less of its beauty and blessings.

If one could conceive of water not as a singular noun, but more of a collective verb, one would be closer to understanding the true nature of this force. It showers, streams, rains, runs, glides, storms or steams, but it does so as millions of separate water(s) that we can only distinguish as drops when completely separated from other drops for a short while. Whenever water is reunited with itself, the separateness dissolves immediately. It easily separates, but there is no resistance to reuniting, since all the separate drops flow and rise to the same laws: refuse no one, seek out the lowest places, and nourish all.


Song of Songs Cloths : Faith, Love, Hope, Wisdom

Faith detail
Song of Songs: Faith detail by Anni Snyman. Final artwork includes beadwork by Boitumelo on digitally printed fabric. 202 x 42cm. In collaboration with Erica Luttich and Boitumelo. View artworks...

Like Prayer chants that flow seamlessly into one another across time, cultures and geographical locations, these cloths recall some of the countless spirits, gods and qualities we have attributed to water over the ages.

I did not intentionally set out to evoke any specific religious experience, but hoped that those that would have meaning for the viewer would emerge when needed.

embroidery detail
Beadwork detail for Song of Songs : Hope by Boitumelo. View artwork...

In honour of this collective quality of water, the women of Boitumelo joined their memories and associations to the images. View panels...


Consciousness Incubators

Consciousness Incubator

Consciousness Incubators by Anni Snyman. Glass vessel handcrafted by Retief van Wyk. 800mm high on glass stands with water and live flowers. View artworks...

The Heisenberg principle states that an investigator influences the outcome of the experiment, and this has been corroborated in many experimental studies. Dr Emoto's beautiful water crystal pictures and deductions (The secret messages of water) seem to lead to a question around consciousness.

Is it the consciousness or intention of the investigator that influences the matter - in this case - water? The investigator him or herself being close to 80% water, one has to ask the question whether the water inside is not the consciousness itself, and what makes it different from the water on the outside? Is that not a form of that same consciousness? And if so, could the investigator himself not be influenced by the matter? Not as ridiculous as it seems, since we all know the effect water has on us. Listening to a running brook or fountain, being immersed in a hot tub, just being at the ocean, or staring at the moon’s reflection on a body of water.

The 80% water in our investigator is only ‘in transit’ through his body, has been through everything, and will be again. This has far reaching effects on many seemingly telepathic concepts such as ‘memes’, zeitgeist and synchronicity. Once one starts to consider the possibility that consciousness can reside in something that is not contained in an officially recognised ‘living’ organism, all kinds of spiritual questions arise as well. If even the water in me is not ‘mine’ but is actively connecting me to all life on this planet – actually to the planet itself, what is my duty towards that water?

If, as human beings we have a specific role to play in the recycling, filtering and ‘memorising’ of the water, what is it?

We generally consider water as something that has to be contained in order for it to be 'useful' to us. Is this not a very naive perspective? Being on the water planet, being born and living by the grace of water - we are actually contained in the very water that sustains and forms us. Could it be that it is our containing/ filtering/ memorising of water that makes us useful to this life force?

Consciousness Incubator Sketch

A Consciousness Incubator vessel in process, and Consciousness Incubator process sketches by Anni Snyman. View sketches...


Evanescence Animation

Evanescence (still frame from animation). Digital photographs by Anni Snyman. Animation by katty vandenberghe. DVD projection. View video clip...

Evanescence means 'tending to vanish', and is generally used to describe the way waves in a body of water tend to disappear. The appearance of water is also evanescent, even though its essential vitality stays the same. We are fascinated by water for this very reason - all of us have spent hours staring at a waterfall or waves on the beach - every drop of it different, yet the same on some level. Water transforms continually - from one animal shape into another, steam to cloud to rain to river to tree or sea - a lot of what we experience as 'vanishing' is just something transforming into another shape. A continuous and beautiful journey of never ending transformation.

One of the most powerful experiences of a sailing trip in Thailand, December 2005 (exactly one year after the tsunami), was the luminescence in the water. If one dove into the water at night, a beautiful halo would follow one's every movement in the still dark sea, vanishing as the water stilled.

Another, less beautiful (but nevertheless vivid) experience, was what we called 'stingers' - something like tiny little jellyfish (too small to see with the naked eye) lurked in the clear water, and every now and then one would swim into a swarm of them with painful consequences.

evanescence slide
Evanescence digital prints on archival paper. 27 x 36 cm each View images....

On returning to South Africa, I learned that both these phenomena are caused by tiny little creatures called 'dynoflagellates' - some of which are luminescent, some which sting, some that do both! I also learned that bioluminescence is not confined to these beautiful sea creatures and fireflies, but that a lot of the bacteria responsible for putrefaction also shine in the dark. (Since we generally bury or burn the putrefying, most of us are not aware of this.) Thus in a roundabout way the luminescence in the water became a strong symbol (for me) proclaiming the death and rebirth of the thousands of people who died in the tsunami.

The moving images, colours and shapes of this contribution intends to honour those that died in the tsunami, but also hopes to bring joy to those of us that can recognise the beauty of our own transience and continual transformation.


Deep Water

Deep water

Deep Water Still XII. Still photographs of water paintings – digitally printed on art paper 30 x 30 cm. Edition of 15. Stills by Anni Snyman. Animation by katty vandenberghe. Duration 6:09. View stills and animation...

This series of images were created on a ‘Buddha board’ – a meditation device that allows one to paint with clear water onto a surface that appears dark when wet, and clears completely as the water evaporates. As one image evaporated, it suggested the next image, thus a chain of transforming thoughts lead to these often sensual, archetypal images.

The fluid chemical structure of water led one scientist that I encountered in my research to say that it is a substance ‘truly in love with itself’ as it continuously forms new bonds between Oxygen and Hydrogen atoms, and is not at all as static as my schoolgirl understanding of the H2O equation implied.

This thought allowed me to include ‘Deep Water’ in the constellation, as one can easily rationalise the female ‘O’ and two male ‘H’ figures as personifications of the chemical structure of water.

flatsceen display

Gallery installation at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery.


Body of Water Paintings

Body of Water

Body of Water Series by Anni Snyman. Digital print on Canvas. View artworks...

This series of photographs investigate the surface of water. A body of water continually creates streams, currents and forms within itself that act much like organisms in that a sensitive ‘skin’ forms that reacts to all impulses that interact with it. Gravity, temperature, chemicals, sound, physical contact and light all influence the water body itself. (Sensitive Chaos - Theodor Schwenk)

I find it interesting that we say that we ‘reflect’ on something when we think about it deeply. Most of these images deal with water’s ability to reflect (on?) the world.

These images were minimally adjusted for the printing process in an attempt to allow the water to ‘paint’ the canvases itself.


Meditating Water Workshop


Installation of bottled water in front of ‘Song of Songs’ donated by Valpre. Meditation space and tags for visitors to infuse the water with positive qualities. Donations go toward the River Rangers, a volunteer group caring for our city’s rivers and streams.

Water loves movement, light, texture, sound - the whole gamut of sensory experience. It filters and cleans itself by running its course through and over the surface of the earth as well as through it’s continual manifestation in living creatures. It retains aspects of its journey – this we know from tasting it. Some waters are sweet and others salty or soapy.

The work of Emoto (The Secret Life of Water) and Schwenck (Sensitive Chaos) seem to suggest that it is not only the absorption of minerals that differentiate specific bodies of water, but that all energies and experiences that it is exposed to affect it.

If this is true, the water in these bottles have absorbed something of the images it has been exposed to at the exhibition. Thus one should be able to drink in the ‘essence’ of an artwork, and not only experience it visually.

The still art object / image contains in it only the possibility of meditation. Is it not the body containing four fifths water that brings meaning to its experience?

Visitors are invited to drink the water in this installation.


Healing Water


Memory of Water Workshop. 10:00 – 12:00, Saturday 4 November 2006.

Various forms of healing waters have been famous for centuries. Angels stirring the waters and saintly visions (such as those experienced at Lourdes) add to a cascading waterfall of hope for everyone that comes to it in need and faith. Lao Tsu praises water as the highest wisdom, always going to the lowest places, never refusing anyone.

Generally, medication is taken with water. Mostly accompanied with a deeply felt wish or belief for health and pain relief. The placebo effect has been well documented. Considering these facts from the point of view that water reacts to prayer (Dr Emoto, Hado), could it be that both the active medication and the placebo have less to do with the patient's recovery than his/her intentions and beliefs combining with the water?

The process of healing is probably one of the most creative tasks all of us must undertake in the course of our lives, be it a physical condition or emotional wound. Times of illness force us to revisit our habits and thoughts, re-evaluating how we spend our lives and love. On recovery, many people display a renewed sense of purpose - as in any creative process, it is often the unintended effect that is most portentous.


Walking with Water

walking with water

Performance by Seity on 1 November 2006. Conceptualised and choreographed by Janine Lewis and Melodie Schoeman. Performers: Kerry Allen, Elmi Labuschagne, Emile Hahn, Janine Lewis, Hennie Janse van Rensburg, Clive Mathibe, Andile Mngadi, Batsile Ramasodi, Melodie Schoeman. View images...

Set in a future not distant enough, a tribe of nomadic dowsers search a scorched earth for the most precious substance of all. Naturally both their skills and finds are coveted by others, and the water wars of the prophesies ensue…


Jozi River of Joy

Jozi River

Installation of 38 Woven mats (approximately 80 x 30 cm each). Various materials. In collaboration with Erica Lüttich and Boitumelo. (Walking with Water performance in the background).

Johannesburg is one of very few cities in the world that is not built on or near a major body of water. What we call rivers (The Jukskei, and the Braamfontein spruit) are really streams by other countries standards. One could say that we live in the Thirsty City.

Water resources in Johannesburg are scarce and sadly under severe pressure from urban development. Our universal life force travels through kilometres of litter, dumping and human waste. Our rivers are sacred, but we seem to have forgotten this.

There must be a way to change the rivers of waste into something of beauty and joy again. If one can enter an idea symbolically (like putting a wedding ring on), one brings the possibility of its manifestation (eternal love) into the real world. Thus the Boitumelo group transformed heaps of waste material into this river of joy.


Uploaded 16 December 2008 at www.annisnyman.co.za, author: Anni Snyman

All work is under a Creative Commons Copyright Licence.


















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