Artist Talk: Marlene Jess


It was about 7:30 in the evening. The sun‘s rays burst through the large windows that adorn the west-facing wall of Harcourt House’s front room gallery. The crowd began pouring in and engaging with the art as Victoria-based artist Marlene Jess prepared to give a talk about her work. Her exhibit, Waterscapes, questions marketing, and the related consumer behaviourism of packaged water products. However, water was not her original focus as is evident in the piece discussed below.


“I bike around [Victoria]…and I started noticing that it’s not a big city but there are a lot of car related businesses there. I started taking photographs of them and sketching them and decided to superimpose them on this board” Jess explained. It was around this time that she started noticing the prevalence of water bottles at gas stations and automotive businesses. It was this that inspired the current series.

The energetic speaker then shed light upon one of the leading causes for this surge in water bottles. “In the last 15 years, [during which] soda pop was not popular anymore, these big brand companies started getting interested in healthy drinks. I was interested in how it’s become part of our domestic environment and it’s become a habitual thing that we do. But why and how did this all start?” she inquired.

“When I was a kid, you would buy a Perrier, you wouldn’t buy a bottle of water. It’s just been advertised in a way that it’s become more convenient and I guess just part of our regular lives is buying bottled water.” Jess pointed out that the growing preference toward packaged water products has an adverse effect on other options like water fountains. She observed that campus water fountains were often obstructed by vending machines that supplied bottled water.


For Jess, Waterscapes is a response to these trends. But she also seeks to make a difference in ways that transcend her art practice. “In Victoria some of the fountains have been shut down but then a couple new ones have come up, so I’ve done a bit of work promoting those fountains,” she said.

Jess also discussed new initiatives that large corporations are starting to adopt; such as Coca Cola’s Bottle to Fibre recycling operation. This program takes PET plastic bottles and breaks them down producing synthetic fibre. This fibre can then be used in the production of textiles, furniture, construction materials and other consumer products. However, programs such as this breed a legitimate cause for concern, “Reusing bottles like that scares me because it gives us permission to create waste, rather than reduce waste.”

Marlene Jess’ Waterscapes will be displayed in the front room gallery of Harcourt House Artist Run Centre until September 10th, 2015.