Amid the many slogans that appeared during the 2019 Chilean social uprising, one in particular triggered this art project: ‘No es sequía: es saqueo’ (it is not a drought, it is looting). In just five words, this slogan addressed both the public concern regarding the extended drought that has affected Chile since 2010 (dubbed ‘the megadrought’) and strongly condemns its management. Indeed, Chile is suffering its worst drought ever registered, with more than 70% of its territory affected to different degrees, and an important percentage of the population living in areas threatened with desertification.[1] Although the water shortage seems to be a consequence of the ongoing climate crisis, a closer examination reveals a type of water governance that has privileged private and industrial sectors, such as mining industries and monoculture farming. 

A crucial factor in the current Chilean water crisis appeared almost 40 years ago when water rights were privatized and water as a fundamental right removed from the Chilean Constitution. Chile, then under a military dictatorship, has been characterized as a neoliberal playground in which diverse free-market economic policies were tested for the first time, directly influenced by the Chicago school of economics. In 1981, when a new Water Code fortified property rights, introduced market incentives, and reduced state regulation, Chile became ‘the leading international example of free-market water policies.’[2] This private model became a reference for other regions of the world, bringing a drastic change of perspective on global water governance in the following years. As Andrea Ballestero asserts, ‘[f]inancialization affects the routes, pressures, and qualities of the flow of water[.]’[3] Water rights and governance are currently being addressed by the constituent assembly writing a Chilean new political constitution.

It is against this background that Water Cybernetics unfolds. This art project sets up a speculative scenario where water has been declared a (hydro)common body with a set of constitutional rights. Drawing upon the Cybersyn project,[4] the Chilean government would then require a platform for a non-extractivist type of water governance, and makes a global call for propositions on water cybernetics. While cybernetics abound in human metaphors, Water Cybernetics interrogates the possibilities of water as a non-anthropomorphic model of reference for a more-than-human problem. In this speculative environmental justice problem, water is both the subject of inquiry and its prism: a ‘hyperobject’[5] that challenges notions of nature, infrastructure, nations, and fundamental rights. As such, this project asks: What would liquid ethical governance look like?

The imagined different proposals, practical and theoretical engagements will conform this project on an iterative and modular basis. During the first stage, we will develop the new set of fundamental water rights as a manifesto. This stage also comprises the development and design of the incomplete fictional treatise on water cybernetics. Further stages will engage in collaborations with local artists, researchers, community organizations, and legal experts to generate context-specific propositions for the water governance platform, combining design justice and decolonial methods.

References

[1] iAgua, “La Sequía en Chile.”
[2] Bauer, Against the Current.
[3] Comisión Nacional de Riego, “Conectividad Hídrica”; Fragkou and Budds, “Desalination and the Disarticulation of Water Resources.”
[4] Morton, Hyperobjects.
[5] Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries.

The first iteration of this project, Water Cybernetics I: (De)appropriation doctrine, will be developed in the context of the Transmediale 2022 residency program