“I am more comfortable in the water than I am on land,” says Jann Rosen-Queralt, a swimmer, scuba diver, and artist with environmental concerns. Upon entering her studio, this is immediately evident. Sitting atop an expansive work table is a maple cutout of the Chesapeake Bay which she will cast in ice and wax. Under the table is a box of horseshoe crabs coated in various patinas. Decals from a recent installation about water consumption are scattered atop another table. On the floor rests an algae-inspired boardwalk design prototype intended for a riverine island park. A steel and cast iron sculpture, reminiscent of a water-filled porthole, awaits final touches in the studio’s adjacent workshop.
As she tinkers with these works in the privacy of her studio, Rosen-Queralt refines and strengthens her voice…a voice that requires confident, compelling expression when her pieces become public art. Injected into collaborative problem solving with scientists, engineers, architects, and planners, it is a voice that has the power to catalyze partnership, discovery, and stewardship.
For Rosen-Queralt, the artistic problem-solving process begins with a question. While on a team designing the City of Arlington, Virginia’s Powhattan Springs Park, a project requiring a skateboard area, soccer field, and nature park, Rosen-Queralt asked “Where is the water?” This led her to recommend the use of a raingarden to manage stormwater and serve as an inviting, interactive, child-friendly, water-themed nature park.
In 2003, Rosen-Queralt helped develop an Art Master Plan for the Brightwater Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington state. The site, not only a state-of-the-art, LEED ® Platinum, non-odorous facility, had become a popular recreation destination. When challenged by Brightwater to create artwork to expose the working processes of the system and engage the public in inquiry and discovery, Rosen-Queralt had two questions: “How do we celebrate this engineering, and how can I visually give people a sense of the 13 million gallons of water a day that pass through this plant?” She answered these questions by creating Confluence, a small-scale installation reminiscent of a tidal pool. Confluence uses the hydraulic action of a “breathing lung,” and the seeping and rushing of water that flows dramatically through a sunken pool and open pipe to reveal the engineering and capture the imagination of visitors to the plant’s community center. The work includes a grove of willows which, upon reaching ten feet in height, will represent the volume of less than .01 percent of the amount of water that flows through the plant on a daily basis.
When the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina sought Rosen-Queralt’s input on the creation of an outdoor space for a mental health facility, her work began, once again, with a question. A beautiful, wooded ravine, bisected the Billingsley campus. Knowing that nature was used in the Center’s rehabilitation programs, Rosen-Queralt asked, “How can this natural habitat be more available to patients?” Her solution was to create Awi-Spek, a refuge area in which “ear trumpet” sculptures amplify the sounds of the birds, rustling leaves, and creaking branches. Located on the north side of a newly constructed bridge connecting the campus, the space, she says, “allows people to revel in the sounds and patterns of movement.”
For Rosen-Queralt, the best and most difficult aspects of working with scientists, engineers, and design professionals are one and the same: the establishment of trust and communication. “I have had some of my most rewarding experiences when the collaboration has been one of reciprocated trust.”
“I’m not a scientist,” explains Rosen-Queralt. “I’m trying to poetically and didactically make people aware of things that are important. I can get people’s attention in a way that other professionals can’t. Engineers are inventive, creative people, but they are very focused on a problem, and if they move too far away from that problem, they’ll lose their focus. I have the luxury of being able to look at the problem and focus in a different manner. I can let the wonder of a situation, rather than the solution, be the leading quality.”
Though seeing her work on display is gratifying, knowing that it is generating awareness of water concerns is what Rosen-Queralt finds most rewarding.