Artist fills 10,000 bottles with polluted water for exhibition

Brother Nut holds a banner at his exhibition of 10,000 bottles he filled with polluted water. The banner says there is excessive manganese in the bottled water he “sells.” (Photo courtesy Brother Nut)

It was hard for villagers to tell that Brother Nut is an artist of some renown.

A fleece jacket, a backpack and a pair of slippers were all he had with him when he arrived at Xiaohaotu, a village in Shaanxi, China. The groundwater there had been polluted by an oil field project and three coal mines nearby.

Around 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated waste is discharged in U.S. waters annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s not much better in other parts of the world; about 1.8 billion people worldwide had difficulty accessing clean drinking water in 2017.

Brother Nut witnessed and experienced this, and recognized the importance of raising public awareness of water pollution.

Brother Nut filled 10,000 emptied bottles of Nongfu Spring water, a well-known brand of bottled water in China, with the polluted water that villagers have been drinking.

In case the water might be poisoned or stolen during the process, Brother Nut watched over the well with a villager all night long. It was a long night in a village in northwest China, with two men, three dogs, a beam of light from flashlight.

A few days after, Brother Nut sent 9,000 bottled waters Beijing 798 Art Zone for display. The other 1,000 went to Xi’an for the same purpose.

Less than two weeks after the exhibition started, Nongfu Spring Company filed a complaint against Brother Nut for trademark infringement. However, this short showcase attracted huge public attention. A video about the exhibition posted by Beijing News reached 3 million views in three hours.

Air Pollution and the Meaninglessness

This is not Brother Nut’s first exhibition, and it’s not his first time speaking for environmental issues.

Back in the winter of 2015, he dragged a 120-kilogram industrial dust collector, walking on the freezing street in Beijing for 100 days to turn the smog into a brick.

Brother Nut walks on a street in Beijing, holding a dust-collector to collect up enough pollution in the air to create a brick. (Photo courtesy Brother Nut)

“We can’t see the smog,” Brother Nut said. “Turning it into a brick that we can touch, it’s not only for protesting against the air pollution, but also for the exploration of new recycling methods.”

Brother Nut has expanded beyond pollution and environment for other art projects.

For “The Company of Meaninglessness,” he hired people to do things often seen as meaningless, such as teaching a fish to smile.

He explained in an interview with VICE China that the purpose of the project is to inform people: It’s not always easy to see the real values of things.

“People don’t like to do things that seem meaningless,” he said. “But if there is a company that pays you for doing meaningless things, you may find the values that lie behind.”

Upcoming Exhibition on Water Pollution

After the first bottled water exhibition, the Environmental Protection Bureau of Yulin, Shaanxi started the investigation. Villagers received water purifiers and the government is constructing deep and new water pipes.

Brother Nut is concerned that it’s not enough for Xiaohaotu. Equipment ensures clean drinking water for villagers, the pollution may still harm livestock and crops. He said that we need to solve water pollution problem in a more thorough way.

A sheep in Xiaohaotu suffers from rhinorrhea and severe oral and nasal ulcers. Brother Nut worries about the high mortality of livestock due to water pollution. (Photo courtesy Brother Nut)

He decided to do a another exhibition on this.

He named it as “The Spring Water for Sheep,” calling on the public to stop water pollution from at the source.

“There are many places like Xiaohaotu,” Brother Nut said. “The background of this exhibition is not only the water pollution in Xiaohaotu, but the water pollution in worldwide.”