My relationship to water has never been the same since I spent a month and a half living out of a Gowanus art studio. Use of a communal bathroom and 500 square feet of space was what I settled into at the height of the 2018 summer heat. There was an air conditioner and a small refrigerator, but the communal bathroom with a slop sink would be my only access to running water.
When I initially got the keys to the place, the landlord told me it would be available for 3 months, after which the building would be taken over by Cube Space storage, because everybody knows New York needs less art and more storage. This is obviously not the first time anybody has lived out of an art studio, so I wasn’t at all worried. There was an affordable gym nearby that had showers, I bought a hot plate, and figured I was all set.
I immediately realized I needed a system for having drinking water on hand. The stuff coming from the faucet in the slop sink tasted metallic, so I settled on grabbing a cheap water filter and a pitcher to carry water to and from the bathroom. I was refilling the large water filter a couple of times a day, using it to drink, make tea, and cook with. It held about 4.25L of water at a time, so I was using about 8-10L of water a day. Every drop I drank was appreciated more and more, and I became in awe of safe indoor plumbing.
Going to a gym to shower was the worst. Instead of hopping in the shower to start my day, I had to get fully dressed and pack a bag just to get to where the shower was. I decided to rig a shower in the studio, and it is still my proudest creation to date.
An area of shelving in the studio turned out to also be the size of a small shower stall. I grabbed plastic sheeting to line the people-sized cubby, mounted a camping shower head from a shelf that pumped water from a 4.23 gallon bucket I had, and purchased a small plastic pool meant for dogs to collect the runoff water. I picked up some shower curtain liners, set up hooks to hang them up, and voila!
I knew it would take extra work to shower in the rig, but I was excited at how much water it seemed to save. Plus, I built it! While my showers would be warm at best, in the summer weather the tepid water temperature was actually quite refreshing.
Carrying the water was a lot of work. Since the bathroom was so far, I was bringing heavy buckets back and forth down the hallway several times a day for drinking water, or the clean and dirty water from my showers. I discovered that a one bucket shower didn’t last very long. From start to finish, 4 gallons lasted about 7 minutes. If I had to wash my hair I would stop the water pump long enough to wash it, and then turn it back on to rinse. After I poured the run-off water back into the bucket, I would shave my legs with the water. I recall my showers used to take up to 15 minutes at my old place, with water running at full blast the whole time. I was officially at peak self-cleaning efficiency.
The biggest pain in the butt in regards to making food was not having a sink, making prep and cooking a lot more tedious. I realized that having a sink, refrigerator and a stove is so often seen as standard living, but is actually quite high-tech, all things considered. Rinsing produce would have to be done over a bucket from the spigot of the water filter, so I was very careful about how much I used. Water leftover in the bucket was used to soak food off dishes until I brought them to the slop sink to wash. At this point, with my new insight into water use, the faucet would be turned off unless rinsing dirt or soap off the dishes.
(Felt like, did not look like..)
During my time there I felt incredibly efficient, even though daily cleaning and cooking took a bit more time. Sadly, a month into my stay I was informed that Cube Space changed their mind on the date that all artists had to vacate, and I was given 15 days to move out.
The biggest thing I left my studio with was a much larger sense of accomplishment and conservation. It was extra work I’ve never had to do before, but I was so glad to do it. Connecting to the processes that people around the world go through in order to care for themselves left me struck with how many luxuries we have in developed countries. I had the privilege to know that anywhere else I would stay would definitely have a shower and a kitchen, much more than what many around the world have.
So unless you’re planning to camp out in a studio any time soon, take some lessons from my experience. Drink plenty of water, and make sure it’s clean. Turn the faucet off when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes. Take shorter showers, and if you can, turn the hot water down to a little cooler than you might normally. Most importantly, appreciate access to clean water. If you have that, then you’re doing pretty good.