Erika Senft Miller, Watercooler 1820-2021

Water Cooler: Donated by Culligan Water, Colchester, VT;

Bird and Fish motives: Scraffito with a screw, Cobalt Blue acrylic pen, clear acrylic spray;

Plinth: Poly-urethane column base, concrete patio stones

Watercooler Talk, An Audio Theater

Curator Watercooler Talk

The presence of a water cooler and the freedom to walk to it are defining features

of office culture, features that mark a sharp distinction between office workers and those on the factory floor. A class distinction that began with the introduction of water coolers into prosperous homes, and a convenience not available to slaves and hired hands that worked the fields.

This installation consists of two objects at a distance. The first is this water cooler on a plastic pedestal, the one you are currently seeing. The second is a water cooler from 1820 that you will find in the permanent collection in the museum’s Early Vermont Gallery. Connecting this contemporary plastic water cooler set in nature with the water cooler made of salt-glazed stoneware placed in a built structure, gives us the opportunity to contemplate a complex set of interrelated issues:

1) The nature of progress;

2) What we put on pedestals;

3) The jarring effect of plastic in nature;

4) The water cooler as perquisite of non-manual labor, and symbol of class division

As I walk back and forth between the plastic water cooler installed in the forest and the stoneware water cooler in the museum collection, I think about what we label as progress even as we perpetuate inequitable class divisions, while choking our rivers, forests and streams with plastic.

I see the world in many different ways. I often get drawn to the cracks, the messy places and the shadows in our everyday lives. That’s where I like to play. I began to play in these places from an early age because I was always the outsider. By the time I was in my 30s I had lived in 18 different places. As a result I was constantly learning how to read a novel landscape. Amidst all these changes, my body and my art always were my constants. Today, the art I make is inspired by the place I am in. For example, I conceived this installation when I encountered the stoneware water cooler from the 1820s here, in Bennington Museum.

Production and Installation Assistance: Seamus Hannan, Codi VanDyk, John Miller

Water Cooler Talk Audio Concept by Erika Senft Miller

Audio experience by Seamus Hannan

Voices: Lucian Benway, Joseph Besl, Gabrielle Rancoud-Guillon, Maxine Senft Miller.

Purchase your personal Water Cooler mug, made in collaboration with Burlington Potter, Dan Siegel, in the museum store.

Erika Senft Miller is an interdisciplinary artist and creator of collaborative multi-sensory experiences. Her work, set in unique physical sites, employs a complement of art forms that foster exploration, and that invite empathy and connection within the context of large-scale performance as well as paintings and sculptures. Senft Miller speaks five languages, has performed in the United States and Europe, and has spent over twenty years teaching in universities, theaters, businesses, and community centers. Her work has been widely exhibited in Vermont.