Mercifully, the work in "Water, Water Everywhere" stays clear of the obvious themes you would expect to see in an exhibition in the desert about water. There isn't a single piece in this group exhibition of artists from around the world that settles for the simple "water equals life" concept. In these elegant pieces, water stands for something more sophisticated.
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The wet stuff is modernity itself in Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba's video projection of Vietnamese cyclo drivers pushing their traditional three-wheeled bicycle taxis across a sandy ocean floor. They struggle, push, go up to the surface for air and come back and push some more, but the quaint carts barely move. It's a metaphor for what's happening in Vietnam as it marches toward modernization. The 21st century has inundated the drivers' way of life, leaving them and their cyclos like a fish out of water. Or, more precisely, like a cart underwater.
The best piece in the show is Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander's hypnotic video Love Lettering. In it, tropical fish swim aimlessly in an aquarium with paper banners attached to their tails. On each banner is a single word, a fragment of meaning: Your. I. One. Rio. Come. It's like one of those magnetic poetry sets tossed underwater. Sure, it sounds goofy, but the video is a powerful and melancholy take on isolation, transience and loss. The fish -- vulnerable and inconsequential creatures bearing bits of misunderstood messages -- are a suitable metaphor for existence in a disconnected, fast-moving age that can leave one feeling like bait.
"Water, Water Everywhere"
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 East Second Street in Scottsdale
Continues through September 4. Call 480-484-ARTS, or see web link.