Making Water Visible: A Meditation on the Eco-Freakology of Lake Thunderbird

This experimental audiovisual installation was an exploration of the eco-freakology (David Fletcher) of Lake Thunderbird, a reservoir, a source of drinking water for communities in Norman, Oklahoma. Lake Thunderbird is both the origin and potential end of a water system in which our bodies are the center, and the habitats and their creatures, along with rusted barrels and beer cans are entwined—where the constructed, natural, and throw-away form a hidden system that we depend on to survive. The installation displays three videos on three walls of a small room constructed of PVC pipe and white cloth with the audience lining the fourth wall.

Making Water Visible explores the linkages between Lake Thunderbird, the Norman Water Treatment Facility, our bodies, homes, and lawns, and the Norman Water Reclamation Facility. It was developed to consider, through sometimes disorienting visual narrative and meditative reflections, the networks that bring water to our homes and bodies as well as those that carry it away. Drawing from Bauch’s Geography of Digestion, the installation presents the body as one part in an interconnected water system that was created by and for human use. A constructed space that has developed its own “freakology” made up of land, water, pvc pipe, boats, birds, vegetation, and red clay, and things left behind or forgotten. The moving images in the installation present Lake Thunderbird in its various forms, as habitat for various living creatures, a burial ground for those creatures departed, and as an activity center for boats that call out the very human sounds of engines and country music.

Since 2010 I have been visiting Lake Thunderbird with relative frequency to hike through the wooded areas and explore the oddities washed up on its shore, that range from fish skeletons and drift wood to rusted barrels, bottle caps, and beer cans. Lake Thunderbird is commonly referred to as Lake Dirtybird due its murky waters that occur because of the red-hued clay that forms the bed of the lake, and perhaps from other unnatural causes as well. The lake exists on Absentee-Shawnee land. It is named after Thunderbird, a supernatural bird in American Indian mythologies who often represents power and strength. However, instead of this reservoir being referred to in the spirit of its namesake, it is commonly called Lake Dirtybird by local residents because of its murky water. It is a site where the nature-culture binary is blurred, a “thirdspace” that places discarded beer cans in conversation with pieces of driftwood, PVC pipes, water treatment, our bodies, homes, and lawns, the water reclamation center, to the Canadian River, and eventually into this same system again.

To get a sense of the experience of this installation, imagine yourself inside of an enclosed space: four white sheets hang all around you, with the three videos above playing on the three walls in front of you. Imagine you are immersed in this space, and you make up the fourth wall–you are also part of this installation. The photos below offer a sense of the installation in its physical form.

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This immersive audiovisual installation was created in the Experimental Geography Studio at the University of Oklahoma, under the advisement of Dr. Nicholas Bauch. The ESG provided resources, space, and helped generate fruitful ideas that made this experience machine possible.

*A Note on Watching the Videos at the Top of the Page: When this page loads, the three videos at the top of the page should automatically begin playing. If you miss the beginning of videos, simply refresh the page. If they do not automatically play, click the play button on each video starting from left to right.

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