Solving California’s water woes will inevitably require intense conservation efforts.
But can art have a role in dealing with the drought?
Artist Lauren Bon and members of her Metabolic Studio certainly think so. Currently on view at the Hammer Museum, Bon’s exhibit, The Catch, immerses museum-goers in water — without getting them wet. Bon uses sound and light reflections to replicate waves, ripples that cascade over a draped white sheet.
The Catch is only one facet of Bon’s colossal project, Bending the River Back into the City, which includes building a functioning water wheel along the L.A. River.
Outside her downtown studio, which sits adjacent to the river, Bon explains the ambitious scope of Bending the River Back Into the City:
“Next May, a robotic piece of construction equipment would be placed in the pit here adjacent to the Metabolic Studio. And it would go underneath a tunnel built underneath the railway tracks. It will pierce a small hole, about a foot big in the concrete jacket of the L.A. River. What that will allow is water that’s been held by the dam to enter a pressurized system that will go under the railway and be picked up by a water wheel from 30 feet below ground to 30 feet above ground, cleaned and redistributed to a network to be known as The Delta of Mt. Whitney, as an homage to one of our sources of water in the Eastern Sierra.”
If tunneling under train tracks and redirecting the L.A. River sound like ambitious engineering undertakings, they are. But Bon says that doesn’t mean what she and her Metabolic Studio are doing is any less a work of art.
“It’s definitely a project that has a conceptual bent,” Bon says. “The idea is to bend the L.A. River back into the city, because we must use every drop of water that is passing through it ... That’s how it transcends being simply an engineering project into being a conceptual artwork which talks about the larger picture and where we’re living and how we’re living in it.”
An integral part of Bon’s conceptual work for the project is its sound design. Bon’s team of artists includes what she calls the Sonics Division, a group of musicians who create the project’s audible elements.
“We play together every Thursday night to the L.A. River,” Bon says. “It’s part of our way of re-activating what we call wastewater back into something that we are treating like precious material.”
This is where Bon’s project really gets conceptual. Bon’s Sonics Division includes what she calls "Sirens" — singers who vocally conjure the river. Dani Lunn is a principal Siren.
“I find it to be an incredible spiritual experience,” says Lunn, “singing to the river rather than singing for entertainment or some kind of response. It’s much more of an offering.”
But there’s one more unavoidable aspect of Bon’s huge water project: government.
Tunneling under train tracks and redirecting the L.A. River requires the cooperation of local, state and federal authorities.
“Art has mysterious transformational properties,” Bon says. “So what I would like to be able to celebrate is the pace at which the federal, state and local authorities embrace the idea of piercing the L.A. River jacket and bringing the L.A. River into the city — and that another city really is possible.”
"The Catch" is is on view at the Hammer Museum until May 10. To learn more about the current exhibit and the rest of the project, "Bending the River Back into the City," visit the Metabolic Studio website.