Misbehaving Devices

The Story of Water


Water. It’s all about water. What’s interesting about water is that it has no form, and it also has the power to deform; water dissolves as much as it moves, fills, and gives life. Such indeterminacy makes water impossibly difficult to record—water cannot be 3D scanned. Yet, such indeterminacy also offers the space for a meditation on how life and lives are formed, reformed, and even deformed over time.
The Erie Canal in Syracuse was a space in which water moved people, and therefore moved lives. But, as we know, the water didn’t move people in the same way at all times. Indigenous people, poor people, and even privileged people all felt the force of the water in different—and disparate—ways, as the water formed, reformed, and deformed lives through work, trade, and displacement…To think with the force of water, with the Erie Canal, to tell its story, is an invitation to tell a story about the cost of “progress” in central New York.
This story is precisely what these vessels seek to tell. We used various recording devices (drone 3D scanning, photogrammetry, stereo-imaging, and infrared laser scanning) to obtain 3D scans from canal locks across Central New York. While these devices captured the stones that hold the water, the water itself remained undetectable to 3D scanning devices. In response, we slipcast these 3D scans in clay to form hollow vessels, to form containers for water obtained from the Erie Canal. However, depending on which moment water was introduced into the vessel, the vessel also became, at times, recording devices of the force of water. When added to the clay vessel before kiln firing, the water infuses with the clay to reforms, displaces, and deforms the cast vessel.
Thus, the final form(s) of the vessels express the de- and re-formation inherent in the construction, maintenance, and usage of the Canal, symbolic of the losses that inevitably occurred as a result of the “progressive” ingenuity and creativity that the Canal symbolized (and in some cases, still does symbolize). While it’s about the water, it’s also about the lives shaped by the movement of the waters. Through a series of misbehaving recording devices, we explore these untold and marginalized histories that made the Canal possible.


Dr. Biko Mandela Gray


Jocelyn Reynolds

Project Team

'Georgia Barrington, Fabrication RA; Dr.Jimmy Tran and the Ryerson University Library Collaborator, Technology Consultant; Amanda Liberty, UAV Fieldwork RA;'

Project Funding

Ryerson University Faculty of Communication and Design


Samara Contemporary, 56 Augusta Ave,
Toronto, ON M5T 2L5