Gautam Rao: Semper Fi

ADC Member creates installation for 'Art. Storytelling. Impact' exhibition

Last week, ADC — in partnership with Shutterstock — played host to Art. Storytelling. Impact, an exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of Chicken & Egg Pictures. As part of the exhibition, five ADC Members were selected to partner with five documentary filmmakers to create art installations inspired by their cinematic creations. We’re featuring the artists, films and installations here on the ADC Blog, but we invite you all to visit the ADC Gallery to experience them first hand.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Directed by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon


gautam-rao_new-pic_colorGAUTAM RAO
Artist/Associate Professor of Art at Butler University
Indianapolis, IN



Describe your installation. What was it about your assigned film that inspired you to create this?

My installation is called Water Tables. The movie Semper Fi describes the contamination found in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Part of what struck me about the film was the power of story- of narrative. Every time Jerry Ensiminger told his story more people came to realize what had happened in their own lives, to see themselves as part of the story. The tables, which mimic pools of water, have blue-tinted irregluar shapes and mirrored surfaces. Viewers see themselves and others reflected in the surface. In interacting with the pieces, they become reflected as part of the story.

It is significant that these are tables. Throughout the film kitchen-table conversations play a significant role, as people find out where they fit in this narrative, talk about the effect on their family or simply come together for strength and comfort. ‘Coming to the table’ is a powerful metaphor for conversation, family, and open discussion. The legs of the tables will be built from metal water pipes, furthering the metaphor.

The second part of the installation is also interactive. It consist of three rubber stamps. The stamps have an artistic approximation of the molecular structure of PCE, TCE, and benzene, three of the many toxic chemicals which caused the horrors of Camp Lejeune. There will be clear post-its and visitors will be able to ‘draw’ with the stamped molecules on the wall directly behind the water pools. Part of this piece is to increase people’s knowledge of the kinds of chemicals that are capable of causing this devastation. In creating the stamped images the audience is mimicking the spread of the use of these chemicals.

My goal in this installation is to reflect some of the ideas and the emotional impact of the film.

What was it like to collaborate with the filmmaker?

It was fantastic to be able to collaborate with Rachel Libert. Her documentary is amazing and it was such an honor to be able to talk with her about it. She described the impact the film had after its release. She got to be in the Oval Office during the signing of the Law described in the movie.

“Her documentary is amazing and it was such an honor to be able to talk with her about it. “

I showed her sketches and my statement about the piece. She was really receptive to my ideas and seemed to enjoy seeing the similar ways in which artists and filmmakers work.

This was a special experience.

How does this installation compare to what you normally do?

This project fits closely with my other artwork. I create interactive installations and work that focuses on the connection between art and design. My work can be play-oriented and joyful. The artworks are interactive because I am interested in sharing the artistic process with the audience. I create a platform by which viewers can express their own creativity and exercise their sense of play. With Water Tables, visitors have the opportunity to create their own drawings using the rubber stamps. As they walk around the tables their view and reflections change. They have a chance to see things differently as their view changes.


Brooklyn, NY



“Interpreting our film Semper Fi: Always Faithful into an installation seemed like a daunting if not impossible task because it is dense with emotional and scientific information. How can one installation capture both sides of the story? But Gautam’s elegant idea of water tables which represent both the”scene of the crime” and the place of emotional connection for our subjects, did just that. It was very exciting to see the installation and to watch people walk around and the tables and interact with the exhibit.”

Gautam’s installation, along with four others created by ADC Members for this exhibition, are on display at the ADC Gallery until November 5.