One of the most infamous quotes by renowned martial artist Bruce Lee was his metaphysical love for an element that makes up approximately 60% of the adult male body. In relation to his personal philosophy, Lee told the world to “be like water...shapeless, [and] formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend” (Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey). The dual perspective of water being both beautiful and fearful, controlled yet relentless is shared by people all over the world, and specifically in the artwork by British sculptor William Pye. An internationally showcased sculptor that works primarily in “metal, stone and especially water”, Pye is fascinated with the element and is particularly known for his water sculptures. (Cass Sculpture Foundation).
As water sculptures have been historically debuted through the form of fountains, Pye takes a more unconventional approach that highlights his respect of the element. In his works, water is not used as a mere added effect to an overall sculpture, instead, it is the main component with other materials as its subservients. “Charybdis” (2000) is Pye’s largest air core vortex sculpture and was named after the mythical whirlpool in Greek and Roman folklore. The sculpture is formally “enclosed in a cylinder of transparent acrylic, which appears to fuse with the water itself, giving the impression of a solid block of liquid rising out of the ground” (Atlas Obscura, Charybdis Fountain). Largely influenced by his engineering family, Pye combines science and art as the circular movement of the water itself both creates the aesthetic of the whirlpool whilst functionally forms the aforementioned air core vortex. Stairs are also encased in the surrounding of the sculpture so visitors can view this swirling effect from above as the centered vortex both “rises and falls every fifteen minutes” (Pye).
By controlling the element through shaping it with a synthetically fabricated exterior mold, Pye exerts his human dominance over water. However, by simultaneously using suction pyrotechnics that mimic the natural form of whirlpools, he also directly engages and challenges viewers with the organic element in one of its most vicious and biological portrayals. Therefore, aside from water being the sculpture’s principal module, “Charybdis” embodies the aforementioned dual properties of water that is concurrently feared and revered. As Pye continues to pull viewers into a liquified world, he provokes the conventions in which water can be showcased, and in turn, allows one to interact with the element beyond traditional means. It is no longer a hope to be like water, but rather, the visual seduction of being in.
Atlas Obscura, Charybdis Fountain, 2000.
Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey, 2000.
Pye, William. Charybdis Fountain, 2000.