TS14: Hilary Booker

By in In The Community on March 25, 2014

AquaPopop is an installation constructed almost entirely of salvaged materials in which the pool at Popop Studios ICVA and its surrounding area are transformed into a food production system, koi pond, and urban oasis.


Water is the source of life. Without it, no living thing could exist. Fresh water is, arguably, the world’s most valuable resource – a resource that is becoming depleted with great speed and at great cost. 70% of the world’s fresh water resources are used in traditional agriculture and industrial agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to the pollution of fresh water resources.

Aquaponics is a water-based closed-loop food production system in which fish provide organic fertilizer for food plants and food plants filter the water to be returned to a fish pond or tank. Despite the fact that water is the primary medium for the system, aquaponic systems use 90% less water than traditional agriculture.

AquaPopop is an installation constructed almost entirely of salvaged materials in which the pool at Popop Studios ICVA and its surrounding area are transformed into a food production system, koi pond, and urban oasis. The final product includes a fountain, gravity flow grow beds, and drip beds integrated into the landscape of Popop Studios ICVA, demonstrating that food production can be its own art form – and often is in urban environments.

The aesthetic is meant to create continuity between the idea of water as clear, fluid, calming, and always taking the path of least resistance. Simultaneously, the piece will demonstrate, literally, the life-giving capacity of water both in its ability to provide a habitat for fish, nutrients for plants, and to provide the calming sound of its flow.


1. What was the inspiration behind your water-themed artwork for Transforming Spaces 2014?

I became a resident at Popop Studios over a year ago and have been inspired by the spirit, legacy and beauty that exists in Popop’s physical and cultural landscape. I wanted to develop an installation that complements that beauty and allows me to make a unique contribution to the Popop community through my work with food production systems. More often than not, the available (salvaged) media, the necessity to support life and the landscapes in which I work inspire the form of my art. The fountain’s glass blocks resemble water because they are clear and refracted and, simultaneously, they are rigid blocks. Aesthetically and aligned with the theme of “water,” this juxtaposition in form exemplifies the paradoxical qualities of water: peaceful, violent, powerful, submissive, life-giving, destructive. This parallels the necessity of constant birth and death required to maintain the balance in a food production ecosystem. In all honesty, however, the fountain was initially planned because it increases the overall surface area across which the water has to flow, raising the level of dissolved oxygen for the koi. In the end, perhaps my inspiration is the process itself, the dance between pretty and productive. Luckily, my installation is permanent and dynamic so it can change as frequently as my sources of inspiration.

2. What was your biggest challenge, joy or learning experience in creating your piece for this project?

My greatest challenges and learning experiences have also been my greatest joys. My work is to create aesthetically pleasing, safe and functional food production spaces out of salvaged—often limited—materials in urban spaces. Every instance presents unique challenges because the available materials, space and food production needs/capacities constantly differ. As a person drawn to problem-solving, I derive great satisfaction from figuring out how to situate each piece of the puzzle, as I indicated previously. I appreciate the Popop community offering me the opportunity to create an outdoor space that is pleasant, peaceful, and agriculturally productive. I hope it will provide a foundation upon which to expand theory and practice around urban environmental art, food production, and community building. I am really pleased to be able to make a productive contribution to the Popop community. Finally, the opportunity to create and spend time outside is a welcome alternative to being stuck inside writing my doctoral dissertation all day.

3. Words of wisdom… a motto, favorite quote?

Do not let perfectionism interrupt practice.


Hilary Booker is a resident artist at Popop Studios ICVA and a doctoral candidate in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England. Her academic focus is the intersection of postcolonial theory, radical cartography and food systems.

As an artist, she designs, facilitates and implements small-scale food production systems and cross-media activist art campaigns for urban community development.

She works primarily within the context of the Environmental/Climate Justice movements to explore how creative/artistic practice offers anti-colonial representations of and solutions to social and ecological issues.

Photos courtesy of the artist

Comments are closed.