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Bethany Engstrom

Waterworks, 2019 – 2020, 5-gallon buckets, plexiglass, and video, Courtesy of the Artist.

Visit Bethany Engstrom’s website
Instagram: @bethany_engstrom
Facebook: @Bethany Engstrom

Hear from the Artist



My name is Bethany Engstrom and the work I am exhibiting in the Newport Biennial is called Waterworks. It is part of an ongoing series of performative video and installation works that I began in late 2019 and I that I continue to work on. It began when I left for a residency in western Maine, the first time I had participated in one since my daughter was born three years before.

On the drive there, I was thinking about being away from her and how this impacts my work as an artist, and I considering how motherhood and art merge together. I am also a curator and an art handler and had just finished assisting in the installation a work that involved moving 50lbs bags of salt and mixing them in a cement mixer. This led me to consider the physicality of how I make my own artwork, which is often large and usually involves heavy materials, as well as the physical aspect of being a mother.

My friend and colleague related the schlepping of the salt bags to picking up my daughter, which provided me practice for the exhibition installation.

At the residency, I had planned to focus on collecting video footage of the natural environment there, which I did, however, when I arrived, I kept thinking about the idea of weight and work/labor. The residency was on a lake, and I knew I wanted to use water as a natural material to represent this idea. The residency manager mentioned that there was a bucket outside that I was free to use and the next morning, I went out and there was this perfect white 5-gallon food grade bucket. A gallon of water weighs just over 8 pounds, and my daughter was 32 pounds at the time. I went down to the lake and filled the bucket with 4 gallons of water and began producing videos of durational tasks with the bucket of water. The work in the Biennial is from a residency at Vermont Studio Center in which I take the traditional studio space, drawing from influences such as Bruce Nauman and Marina Abramovic among others, and create these videos of myself pouring water from one bucket to another until my back begins to ache. In the others, I hold the bucket until I cannot hold it any longer. I am continuing to work on this idea in relation to how work is considered as an artist and a mother during the current times.