SONG/LAND/SEA: WAI Water Warning & Binakol Blessing, 2024

SONG/LAND/SEA by interdisciplinary artist Lani Asunción is a public art installation and performance series that responds to the unequal impacts of climate change and global warming on Boston’s own coastline. Engaging with environmental racism as well as reminding us of ways of collective and resilient survivance, SONG/LAND/SEA serves as a warning of environmental change that echoes amidst the accelerating climate crisis.

To explore these issues, Asunción created a two-part installation: WAI Water Clock, a free-standing sculpture made of cement, brass, sailors’ rope, and steel, and Binakol Blessing Banners + Flags, a series of digital images developed by the artist and printed onto 4 large-scale fabric flags and twelve 15-foot tall vinyl banners. 

Connecting these works is the central concept of WAI, which translates to ‘water’ in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiʻian language). Foundational to Hawaiian culture, wai sits at the root of many words associated with value and importance, such as waiwai, which means both ‘wealth’ and ‘life force.’ Asunción calls our attention to wai as a warning, a healing blessing, and as a call to action toward the changes brought by the climate crisis. 

WAI Water Clock is an 8-foot tall sculpture featuring a suspended cement vessel, brass bell, sailors’ rope, and an etched brass bowl. This design echoes water clocks, a time-keeping technology used by humans for thousands of years to measure time based on the flow and filling of water within a specific-sized vessel. At its center, the vessel in WAI Water Clock cradles a nautical bell engraved with the word wai, forming a monumental water drop—a symbol of lamentation for the futures at stake and of Boston’s coastline returning to the sea. 

Directly below the bell lies a handcrafted brass bowl, lined with a message in binary code that reminds us of these cycles of return: All that is solid melts into air. As rainfall flows through the vessel and fills the bowl, the collected water marks Boston’s flooding coastline and the passage of time by reaching etched numeric hexagrams from the I-Ching, a Chinese divination text. Each hexagram symbolizes a time-based milestone in years –5, 10, 20, 40, 80, 100, 160, 250, 340, 400, 500– from which viewers can imagine forecasted sea levels along Boston’s vulnerable coastal areas.

In response to these futures, visitors to the artwork can use the knotted sailors’ rope to ring the bell at the center of WAI Water Clock. By doing so, they simultaneously sound an alarm for climate change as well as issue a sonic wish and blessing that echoes throughout The Greenway: a call to confront our environmental realities through collective action toward resilience and environmental justice. 

To create the Binakol Blessing flags, Asunción reworked US military camouflage patterns, layering them with traditional Ilocano woven binakol designs from the Philippines. On the adjacent vinyl banners, images of waves from the artist’s home state of Hawaii are overlaid with indigo-dyed knotted sailors’ rope and a map of downtown Boston that depicts sea-level rise predictions for the year 2070, encircled by messages in binary code and hexagrams from the I-Ching, a Chinese divination text. These designs embody the immensity of the ocean and offer protection against malevolent forces, motioning toward the military-industrial complex and high-tech industries, whose contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and extractive practices continue to propel the climate crisis forward.

As our earth undergoes rapid transformation, SONG/LAND/SEA: WAI Water Warning and Binakol Blessing stands as a stark reminder of the profound shifts reshaping Boston’s coastline and the ground right beneath our feet. 

 

We are especially grateful to the master craftspeople, artists, and designers across New England who collaborated with the artist and The Greenway to conceptualize, fabricate, build, and install this sculpture: Lunaform (Sullivan, ME), US Bells  (Prospect Harbor, ME), Marlinspike Chandlery (ME), American Metal Spinning Products (NY), Sitira Design (Spencer, MA), Plymouth Quarries (Hingham, MA), Shane Signs (Somerville, MA), Lucia Pearl Jewelry (Providence, RI), and And Voilà Inc. (Providence, RI).

Renderings of the Binakol Blessing banner and flag designs to be installed on The Greenway July 2024

  • Lani Asunción (they/she) is a Filipinx interdisciplinary artist exploring the intricacies of identity and belonging, confronting the inner weaving of intergenerational trauma with ritualized performance and public art that serve as acts of reclamation. Through transmedia storytelling and research, they create socially-conscious work that activates counter narratives of collective resistance to settler colonial foundations and points to collective liberation. Their multimedia practice becomes a conduit for connection and disruption, breaking down barriers and inviting participation. By challenging established narratives and amplifying marginalized voices, they seek to create spaces where alternative ethics of care, community healing, and social solidarity can thrive. Asunción comes from the Bay Area in California, Oahu, Hawai’i, Tennessee, and Ryūkyū Islands 琉球列島 and is now located on the East Coast in Boston, MA.

    Asunción has attended residencies at Mass MoCA Studios as a Future Frequencies Fellow (CreateWell Fund), Vermont Studio Center, Santa Fe Art Institute, and Fellowship Residency at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. Their augmented reality and public performance project Revolutionary AYAT was awarded the 2022 Public Art for Spatial Justice grant from New England Foundation for the Arts. Asunción is the Public Art Manager & Curator of the 2024 Temporary Public Art Projects and Performances at Pao Arts Center in Chinatown as part of the Un-monument | Re-monument | De-Monument: Transforming Boston project supported by The Monuments Project at the Mellon Foundation. They are the Artistic Director and founding member of Digital Soup, a queer BIPOC multimedia art and performance collective, and a member of Mobius Artists Group, and the BCA Studio Residency. They create from their live/work studio at Midway Artist Studios which resides on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Massachusett people in the Fort Point Arts District in Boston, MA.

  • Public Art on The Greenway is made possible with major support from the Barr Foundation, Goulston & Storrs, the Greenway Business Improvement District, the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation, Meet Boston, and the Wagner Foundation.

    Additional support is provided by the Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee.

  • The Greenway is a contemporary public park in the heart of Boston. The Greenway welcomes millions of visitors annually to gather, play, unwind, and explore. The Greenway Conservancy is the non-profit responsible for the management and care of The Greenway. The majority of the public park’s annual budget is generously provided by private sources.

    The Greenway Conservancy’s Public Art Program brings innovative and contemporary art to Boston through free exhibitions that engage people in meaningful experiences and dialogue with art, each other, and the most pressing issues of our time. Past Greenway exhibitions can be viewed on the Conservancy’s website