An Artist's Work, Down the Drain

By Sarah Blaskovich
Associated Press
Saturday, July 30, 2005

LONDON, July 29 -- British artist Mark McGowan finally shut off the spigot Friday -- 32 days after turning on the faucet in an art gallery's kitchen sink as part of an exhibit intended to mock the waste of water.

"The Running Tap," as it was called, was McGowan's effort to protest the waste of water in London by blatantly letting it go down the drain. After the sink swallowed 211,344 gallons, McGowan ended the project.

"It was really quiet," he said, since he'd grown used to the faucet's gushing sound. "I felt quiet inside as well."

The idea came as London experienced its worst drought since 1976. The cold water was intended to gush for one year and waste 3.9 million gallons -- all in an effort to alert Londoners that precious water is needlessly wasted every day.

"Water's quite cheap," he said. "I think that's why people waste it so much."

McGowan decided to abort the project after the public utility, Thames Water, hand-delivered a notice ordering McGowan to turn off the tap within seven days -- or else.

He celebrated the end of the exhibit with a cool glass of water.

"The reason behind my art will linger," he said somberly.

Thames Water had tried to get McGowan to shut off the tap several days after the exhibit began, but McGowan wouldn't. He claimed the company wastes millions of gallons every day through pipe leakage -- a charge it did not deny.

"We don't deliberately leak," said Nick Tennant, the utility's spokesman.

Thames Water acknowledged that the art helped illuminate waste problems but complained that McGowan shamelessly squandered the precious liquid.

Even after its demise, "The Running Tap" might be resurrected.

With a $2,614.62 price tag, the stainless steel sink is up for sale, ready to cascade once more. McGowan said he had received an e-mail from an interested art connoisseur in the United States.

"I think it's one of my best pieces because it's so simple," he said. "Myself, I still leave the tap running sometimes because I forget."

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