John Armstrong

Atanas Bozdarov and Tomasz Smereka
WADE at Charles G. Williams Pool (Wabash and Sorauren) and Carr Street Pool (Carr and Denison)

When I first read a short description of Atanas Bozdarov and Tomasz Smereka’s artwork in the 2006 WADE brochure, I circled it as a must-see. Their piece appeared reminiscent of a successful work by Gwen McGregor from WADE’s first outing in 2004; McGregor had filled her wading pool with large blocks of blue gelatin. The neighbourhood children loved this simple but magical transformation of the very essence of a wading pool: its water. Bozdarov and Smereka proposed a parallel shift: all of the pool’s water would be contained in plastic bags. I imagined hideous stacks of sealed green garbage bags. I couldn’t imagine how the public might react to what I conceived of as a version of Toronto’s last garbage strike.

I planned to spend the first day of WADE tooling about from pool to pool on my bike. Of course, I didn’t get to see all of my destinations. This is the great beauty of WADE; you get to a pool, you get wet, you get into conversation, you have fun, you have to dry off. Try as you may, you just can’t stick to a timetable. I arrived to Bozdarov and Smereka’s site late in the afternoon, but still within the event’s set hours. The pool was empty. The only person about was the pool attendant, who helpfully explained that the piece was rather short-lived. The water, as it turned out, was contained in small, transparent plastic bags, the size of milk bags. At the start of the day, the pool was duly filled with the bagged water, a strange and wondrous thing to behold according to the attendant. Families arrived, jumped into the pool, some bags burst, everyone splooshed about, and in short order one of the fathers initiated a pillow fight with the water bags. Soon, there were no longer any filled bags left. The artists and the attendant then judiciously drained the pool.

I couldn’t do WADE the next day, but, determined to see something of Bozdarov and Smereka’s piece, I came to their second site early to at least see the set-up. The attendant fetched a hose and the artists established themselves in the middle of the pool with their bags and a number of sealing machines, the kind that my local health food store uses. I helped the artists bag water for a spell, and learned there is a trick to getting an effective seal: you have to twist the bag just so, and then really bang down on the sealing tape. Soon more volunteers arrived, and we were all standing in a sea of bagged water. Unexpectedly, the effect was a bit creepy; this was not the fun-in-the-sun of McGregor’s piece of two summers ago (we were however without any cavorting kids). The bagged water seemed strangely prophylactic, like something we weren’t meant to have. I thought of the recent successes of water rights activists combating water’s commodification by transnational corporations in Central and South America. Maybe this is a bit of a leap, but questions about our relationship to water resources are in the air. This fall, mainstream Canadian churches have asked their adherents to boycott bottled water. Maybe the pillow-fighting father unwittingly reflected a widely held sentiment: (in the spirit of Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall) something there is that does not love sealed water.

WADE catalogue, 2006