John Freyer is a nationally renowned artist, VCU professor in the School of Arts, and recovering alcoholic. Early in the process of his recovery from addiction, John began to drink ice water as a replacement for alcohol. One evening, he decided to sit outside his studio with a dispenser of ice water and offer free drinks and conversations to people leaving the bars as a way to come to terms with his struggle and engage the community in a conversation about the sensitive subject matter. Freyer, an early adopter of technology and social media, began to notice vast differences in the ways people relate online and offline and the cathartic healing abilities of face-to-face conversation.

We disconnect from our humanity when we are engulfed in technology.

John’s experiment developed into his community art project FREE ICE WATER. Any person conversing with John over ice water becomes an accidental participant in the conceptual art project and FREE ICE WATER community; the participant transitions into an artist by engaging in the conversation. At the end of the conversation, the two artists add a token of their conversation to the jar, then and sign and seal the lid. The participant is left to decide what the artifact of their conversation is, and what it symbolically means to them.

These conversations allow people to discuss and tackle important issues in their lives in a way they may not have felt empowered to prior to their involvement. John says being in recovery doesn’t just mean you no longer drink or do drugs; but rather, it means you recognize you are in the process of improvement. By dissecting our problems though intimate and engaged conversations, we can relearn the concept of empathy and overcome even our most difficult challenges.

You can view John Freyer’s work, learn about his projects, and follow the development of FREE ICE WATER on his website



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