Lady Bird Lake art installation to focus on water conservation

Lauren L'Amie

If the heat isn’t reminder enough of the droughts plaguing Texas, Women and Their Work Gallery hopes its new art installation, THIRST, will do the job. 

According to artist Beili Liu and the team at Women and Their Work Gallery, most Texans aren’t aware of the severity of the current water crisis. Women and Their Work is in the process of creating a massive temporary installation on Lady Bird Lake under the moniker THIRST. The project is meant to serve as a memorial for the millions of trees lost in recent droughts.   

“We chose the Lady Bird Lake as the project site not only because it is the heart of Austin, but also because of its constant water level and the beautiful green belt surrounding it,” Liu said. “Sometimes it is exactly the place we tend to forget about the urgency of the water crisis.”

THIRST began as a collaborative project between guest artist and UT associate professor Beili Liu, architects Emily Little and Norma Yancey, and landscape architect Cassie Bergstrom. On public view starting Sept. 28, the installation will feature a massive tree suspended over the lake, its roots just inches from the surface of the water. A string of prayer flags will line the hike and bike trails along Lady Bird Lake from the Pfluger pedestrian bridge to the First Street bridge. 

At their cozy Lavaca Street location, a table of artists, architects, volunteers and friends gathered to string together the more than 2,000 prayer flags they’ve compiled and discuss what needs to be done next.

“The point is to encourage discussions about water and our water use,” executive gallery director Chris Cowden said. “I think there will be a lot of conversation, which is what has to happen. It’s a complicated problem that needs to be discussed.”   

Women and Their Work was the only gallery in Texas awarded a $50,000 grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, an organization whose basis is the idea that “art can change the world.” Even though the grant allowed the THIRST team to work without requesting city funding, they still had to undergo extensive permitting for over a year and a half. 

“It’s been great to see how much support we have from the city,” Yancey said. “To see what we’re capable of and what Austin will embrace will really further our cause. We live in a place that really encourages the spread of ideas.”

As far as public response, the architects, arborists and artists involved in THIRST hope for a heightened awareness of the water-related issues facing our city. Texas lost 301 million forested trees and 5.6 million urban trees in the 2011 drought. 

“We noticed we were seeing water restrictions that were being talked about on a legislative level but not on a citizen’s level,” Yancey said. “But we can use art as a means to raise awareness and also get people to see how much energy and work is going into our most precious resource.”

Women and Their Work is intent on spreading the word about THIRST, utilizing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a live website — — to gain publicity and a volunteer basis. In addition to their own networking, KLRU is planning to make a 30-minute documentary about THIRST and Women and Their Work as a part of their “Arts in Context” series. 

“Thirst is a project for our community,” Liu said. “It is a project that brings people together. It brought the collaborative team together, and hopefully will bring our citizens together…We could possibly initiate some positive change.”

THIRST will be completed and ready for viewing on Sept. 28.