Black Cube’s Avalanche Flushes Out Cold Facts About the Bottled-Water Industry

Taste the Institute for New Feeling's Avalanche water, direct from the source, September 9 at Denver Wastewater.
Taste the Institute for New Feeling's Avalanche water, direct from the source, September 9 at Denver Wastewater. Courtesy of Black Cube
We don’t always know all the facts about the water we drink, and that goes double for “enhanced” bottled water, a panacea for unslaked thirst when the tap water tastes bad — or worse, when there’s no fresh water even left to drink. Nevertheless, we grab for that La Croix, expecting a pure, refreshing product, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The Institute for New Feeling, a three-artist collective known for creating and “marketing” fake products that boast regenerative powers, from fragrances to concrete neck pillows, has joined forces with the Black Cube Nomadic Museum to do the same with enhanced water. The end product is a bottled water called Avalanche, manufactured complete with its own vending machines, which they’ll market, taking an absurdist approach, as a recycled beverage made fresh again by human usage.

The Avalanche project, also mounted in conjunction with the University of Denver’s Vicki Myhren Gallery and the Biennial of the Americas, will begin on Saturday, September 9, with an elaborate pop-up mock-filtration performance at, of all places, the Denver Wastewater Management facility, located along the banks of the not-so-clean Platte River. As Black Cube’s Cortney Stell explains, it’s a tongue-in-cheek response to the way branding whitewashes the truth about marketable products.

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The Denver Wastewater Management facility, pre-Avalanche.
Courtesy of Black Cube
And how: “They’ve developed a pyramidal scaffolding — it’s a kind of Rube Goldberg ice sculpture of a mountain, where the water will trickle down and will be used for different things along the way,” Stell describes. “One person will use it to brush his teeth. There’s a guy smoking in a kiddie pool, and other people watering plants, washing a car, using a facial steamer, and so on. We have one woman performing with forty singing bowls, and it’s all in real time. The performers are mostly non-professionals we found through Craigslist, except for the singing-bowl woman. She was hired as a professional.”

Part performance and part happening, Avalanche, which will be documented by camera-wielding drones during the event, will also include sonic performances and music, and guests will be able to test fresh bottles of Avalanche water at the event. Afterward, Black Cube moves, lock, stock and barrel, to the Myhren Gallery for a product launch and video documentation of the performance on September 14.

For Stell, it’s a big step for Black Cube, which is up to its neck in new projects. She’s looking forward to collaborations with two artist fellows — El Paso artist Adriana Corral, who’s creating a human-rights installation at a historic site along the Mexican border, and Lauren Halsey, who’s building a sculptural float for next year’s MLK parade in Los Angeles — as well as evolving iterations in Denver of Drive-In, a series of pop-up group exhibits of car-related art that kicked off in August.

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Avalanche: The water of the future?
Courtesy of Black Cube
Also in Black Cube’s future is the possibility of a physical headquarters, but Stell’s not ready to let the cat out of the bag about where it might be or how it will be used. “We're a museum turned on its head. Most museums have a drum-roll opening,” she muses — but that’s not Black Cube’s style.

“It’s such a wild thing, this Black Cube,” Stell continues. “I’m limited only by my abilities and my vision and the people I work with to realize this amazing and super-frightening thing.” How lucky we are to be invited to come along for the ride.

Black Cube’s Avalanche performance with the Institute for New Feeling begins with a reception at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 9, followed by the installation viewing at 8:30 p.m., at the Denver Wastewater Management facility, 2000 West Third Avenue. Admission is free. The formal Avalanche exhibit opens with a product launch 5 to 8 p.m. at the Vicki Myhren Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue on the DU campus, and runs through October 1. Learn more about the project and other Black Cube happenings online.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd