At a house in São Paulo, Lenora de Barros considers the city's water crisis
Many of the houses in São Paulo’s Cidade Jardim neighborhood are surrounded by tall, thick walls topped with thin lines of electrified wire, as is often the case in the city’s wealthier areas, but on Saturday evening, the day before the end of the SP-Arte fair, the front gate of one house was swung wide open. Every few minutes a car pulled up and dropped people off, and they wandered inside for an event hosted by New York’s Broadway 1602 gallery, São Paulo’s Galeria Millan, and Ricardo Ortiz Kugelmas, whose grandfather once lived there.
A few dozen visitors lingered throughout the dimly lit house, most congregating around an empty swimming pool in back that was filling, very slowly, with ping-pong balls, each one dropped from a thin, clear pipe that was attached to a large basin of balls above the pool. This was a new work by the Brazilian artist Lenora de Barros called Volume Morto (Dead Volume)—“the deepest and final supply of a reservoir, below the regular water catchment points, only attainable through the use of water pumps,” as the Barros writes in a statement.
A single layer of balls filled the floor of the deepest section of the deep-end, but only just barely. Each ball hit the pool’s tiles, echoing loudly through the backyard as it bounced, and then settled deep in the pool. São Paulo’s reservoirs are similar depleted at the moment, after years of weak rainfall and even despite heavy rainfall in February and water-use restrictions. De Barros was mapping out that emptiness, rendering it tangible, beautiful and sad.
And she designed the work so that you could not hide from it, even if you ducked away from the pool, positioning microphones on its floor that transmitted those crisp, chilly bounces into speakers in the wood-paneled library. For a moment, it actually sounded like heavy drops of rain were falling outside, but then you remembered what you were hearing.