Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

  • Joel Kyack

  • Presented by — Workplace

The artist Joel Kyack in a river, holding on to a piece of wood to keep afloat.

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls focuses on the fundamental element of water — how humans control water, have historically controlled it to form the foundation of industrial production, and how, in turn, with the passing of time these industrial sites have become centres for contemporary cultural production shaping the spaces within which we expense art today; the Tate Modern, with its Turbine Hall, is perhaps the most obvious example of such a transformation in London.

Through this work Los Angles-based artist, Joel Kyack, explores these transformations and fundamentally addresses the often overlooked foundational binary inherent to artistic production — the representation of something vs. actually being that something. One can make a painting or sculpture of a tree, or one can use an actual tree in the work. This performance will interrogate these two opposite modes of production by straddling and occupying both.

Description of the Work

The event will begin in a gallery space where attendees will be milling about the space looking at works. Among them will be a person who is performing the work, dressed conservatively and not “standing out” in any way, walking about and looking at the works in the show, seeming to be just another attendee. The gallery will provide water for attendees that is served in plastic cups.

A modestly-sized drawing, or painting (full description in acquisition info) on paper that depicts a waterfall should be hung on a wall in the exhibition with two thin nails through its top two corners. In front of that will be a snare drum set up at a slight angle, presented as being part of the total piece, the drum and the drawing/painting. This will appear as simply another piece in whatever show the performance is presented in.

When the performer reaches the work just described (which will be installed for the performance on that day only) will dwell there momentarily, considering the piece. They will sip from their cup of water and then turn towards the rest of the space and begin to clear their throat. After a few of these they say, “Pardon me, but may I have everyone’s attention please?” and continues with this as long as needed until all attention is on them.

Looking about they will ask (of no one in particular), “Might I have the waste basket of the gallery?” Someone fetches them the plastic waste can that is specific to this work. They set the can down under the lower edge of the snare drum.

“I would like to propose a toast”, says the performer, “to this painting of a waterfall.”

They then remove one of the nails from the painting and it dramatically swings sideways, swaying back and forth as it now has only one nail holding it up. The performer takes the nail and slowly and carefully inserts it into the side of the cup. Once it is inserted they hold it aloft above the drum, directly and seriously look into the eyes of everyone in attendance. They will then turn back to the cup, remove the nail from its side, and the water will begin to stream out of the hole and onto the drum head.

The performer will adjust the tonal qualities and volume by lifting the cup higher or lower in relationship to the drum, as well as where the stream hits the angled surface of the drum head (this is demonstrated in a separate video). This “song” becomes the toast, and continues until the stream rate (which breaks up in the air to form drops that have an audio “rate” to their execution) subsides from fast succession to single strikes and then, ultimately, stopping.

There will still be water in the cup just above the hole (this happens because there is not enough water pressure to push through such a tiny hole), and the performer will set the cup down on the drum (which is slightly angled and modified – see the aforementioned video). Water will continue to drip from the drum into the waste basket as the performer leaves the space without saying anything more and they do not return. There will be no announcement around these actions. They will take place as though it is something that just organically occurred.

Conditions of Performance

This work can only be staged at an institution that is currently exhibiting work during an active show that this piece can become a temporary part of, or during a private party in a domestic setting where there are other artworks around. The performer must be an adult, and must dress conservatively (however that may be for the location where it is being staged).

It doesn’t need to be a professional actor, rather someone who is comfortable performing.

The performer should be provided with a sharp nail and some test cups prior to the performance taking place (even just before on the same day would be fine), so as to be comfortable inserting the nail in a cup of water without making a mess.

The other components must not be rehearsed.


Any staging of this work must be documented both in still images and video. All documentation must be produced discreetly during the performance so as to not distract viewers from the action.

Showing a video in lieu of the actual performance could be done if it were part of an institutional show in which continually staging the actual performance would be impossible, in all other cases the entire video of the performance should not be shown. Using a video of the actual performance for promo could be done as long as it is not the entire performance and the artist approves the video beforehand. Images can be used for promotional material.

Performance History

Joel Kyack began staging performances in 2004 while studying at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture by floating a massive bounce house castle on a large lake. He then produced the piece The Dam, staged in a creek in rural Pennsylvania, USA. From these works water became a major component – both literally and conceptually – of Kyack’s interdisciplinary practice, where fountains often take center stage in exhibitions. Over the past 15 years he has staged performances in galleries, museums, and public spaces in the US and Europe.


  • All materials will be provided upon acquisition unless otherwise specified

  • A small waste basket.
  • A snare drum and stand. The snare drum will have a drainage hole in the top rim. Should this element ever need replacing then a hole needs to be drilled in a new snare drum. Instructions on how to do that are provided separately.
  • A painting of 20" x 18" of a waterfall made by someone who is not the artist. Should this need to be replaced, it can be substituted by any other painting of the same object (waterfall) and dimensions made by anyone who is not the artist.
  • 2 Nails to hang the painting. These will be provided but can be substituted in the future with any sharp nail of similar size and shape to the ones provided upon acquisition.
  • Plastic cups. These will be replenished with a similar product every time the performance is staged (as there will be a hole made in the cup each performance).
  • Water that will be in the plastic cup of the performer (not provided)