The Desalination Plant Waste Garden, 2007

Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger
The Desalination Plant Waste Garden, 2007
Brine (salt water) from the Sharjah Desalination plant
Artificial and dry plants from Sharjah, hoses, rope, wire, water bottles containers, tent, plastic sheets, lost objects from the coast, drinking wate
Installation view


This garden is situated in one of the old courtyards of the heritage area in Sharjah. The nutrients for the garden are the waste products of the desalination plant. Huge quantities of energy are used to transform enormous amounts of seawater into freshwater. The leftover product of this process is brine: it consists mostly of water and salt, along with some chemical by-products, and is thrown back into the sea.

In our garden we transform this waste product into growing salt-crystal plants. Through a 3-metre-high hanging and branching-out hose system, the saltwater (brine) reaches used drinking bottles. From these points it drips slowly along ropes and fabrics onto vegetation that is made out of artificial flowers, garbage and real dried plants from Sharjah. During this dripping process the water evaporates and salt crystals begin to form, building up and extending these plants. The visitor can walk under the house system through the garden and have a close look at the amazing salt-crystal plants.

Salt is a symbol for life and death. The dead artificiality of plastic plants wakes up to new life. As Sharjah has not enough freshwater sources, the seawater has to get rid of the salt. But without salt there is no life either. Both salt and water are precious and a big issue in the worldwide environmental debate. The consequences of intensive agriculture are lack of water and over-salted earth. In Sharjah huge amounts of sweet water are used for uninspired decorative green areas.

Our blood contains the same amount of salt as you find in seawater (a memory about the origins of life). Salt is essential for the body’s metabolism, but in higher concentration deadly to all life. In former times salt and gold had the same value – we still find this today in the word "salary". There have been salt wars. Salt is an old symbol for friendship in Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures. Evaporating salt water cleans the air and is used as a treatment for breathing problems.

The Desalination Plant Waste Garden is a devotion to Salt and you would do well to inhale deeply!

This project was part of Sharjah Biennial 8.