Vessel for H2O

Art for a good cause - How does it work?

A long gangway leads down to the Elbe River pontoons. The water sparkles in the sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky. In Hamburg that’s worthy of note. To the left there are ships like the ice breaker “Crusher”; to the right there are dark green wooden sheds and the “Lütte Deern” (or “Little Girl” in Hamburgese) owned by Barkassen-Meyer, a barge rental outfit. Usually, the little ship is docked at the pier and ferries tourists around the harbor and warehouse district. Today, it serves as the venue for our interview with Julia Benz.

The Lütte Deern is charity art on water, advocating for fresh drinking water – all in the name of the Viva con Agua initiative, which campaigns for dignified access to clean potable water and basic sanitary conditions.

The hull of the little boat is decorated with fluid abstract patterns painted by Julia Benz. “I did all that in a shipyard, it took me ten days,” she explains. Viva con Agua directly commissioned Benz to create this artwork. Michael Fritz, founding member of the association, called her up last year and said: “Ey, Benz, you feel like painting a boat?” And her reply: “Yeah, sure!... Hold on. What?”

Julia Benz took a detour to art, but then studied at the renowned Dusseldorf Art Academy and University of the Arts in Berlin. She usually works on canvas, mostly painting abstract landscapes – without drawing an outline, just by pure intuition. Her studio is in Berlin, but she visits Hamburg since she loves the feeling of freedom she gets from the harbor and water. It’s mostly Viva con Agua projects that lure her to this city. Their principle is: To sell bottled water in Germany and to build wells in poorer countries with the proceeds and donations. The point of using art is to raise awareness to a higher level – #artcreateswater is their motto. Part of their mission is to host the socially conscious art festival, Millerntor Gallery #5, held at the St. Pauli stadium. Julia Benz is participating for the third time.

Benz loves the opportunity to dedicate her skills to social causes. “Art can communicate,” she claims, “everyone can see and feel this.” She continues, “It’s like music. Art does something to everyone.”

Being socially active is important to her, but as an artist, she does not want to lose herself in social activism. “If I started painting cats around buckets of water or if I painted everything in black and white, then people would no longer recognize ‘Julia Benz.’” Her collaboration with Viva con Agua would, thus, become pointless and she would no longer be taken seriously as an artist.

But collaborating works well for both parties. In early 2015, the artist who made Berlin her home traveled to Uganda as an “ambassador.” To go where the Viva con Agua money goes was an important experience for her. “We were in a village where people lived in tiny huts, subsisting solely on whatever nature would grant them. Their only problems were hygiene and potable water. It is important for the world to see this.”

In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, it took the 29-year-old artist two days to paint an abstract water mural onto the National Theater walls. Much like the boat, the theater was a new kind of challenge. “These are things that scared me a lot because I had never done them before. But in the end, it worked out well.” On her own, she would have never come up with the idea of painting a boat, but now she even wants to “put paint on an airplane.”
It would be great if she could and we are rooting for her – and for Viva con Agua, because that’s the thing about their collaboration: It’s a win-win situation in any case.

Nepal Water Project
Viva con Agua’s current project Integrated Water Management to Fight Poverty aims to improve the quality of drinking water, sanitary conditions and hygiene in Eastern Nepal. Viva con Agua uses donations and technical know-how to help provide access to clean drinking water, especially for ethnic minorities. Supporters can make a donation at the reception desk of any 25hours hotel. In addition, 50 cents/Rappen of every 25hours hotel online booking will go towards the initiative’s proceeds.

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