A New Installation Turns the L.A. River Into Art
The river’s surreal landscape is the perfect place to make a statement about water use
If you’ve noticed something beautiful while driving through Los Angeles lately, you’re onto something artsy. The city is currently in the midst of Current:LA Water, a public art biennial with the goal of bringing the city’s most critical issues into a conversation using the power of contemporary art. And one of the project’s most ambitious works of art is one that draws on one of the city’s most fraught symbols, reports FastCoExist’s Adele Peters: The snaking, nearly dead Los Angeles River.
“UnderLA” is a collaboration between media artists Refik Anadol and Peggy Weil. Located at the mouth of the river and at the iconic First Street Bridge in eastern downtown, the installation takes over a stretch of the river’s concrete banks with projections of lithologic soil samples taken by USGS geologists from the surface to 1,400 feet underground. Each sample reflects older and older pieces of rock going back as far as 2.5 million years. The samples were taken inside two monitoring wells in Los Angeles—a reminder, the duo says on the project’s website, “that LA’s aquifers are stressed by the continuing drought.”
Despite rain this winter, drought persists in SoCal. The area’s prolonged dry spell is thought to have spurred on catastrophic wildfires throughout the state, and record numbers of rattlesnakes are slithering their way into yards due to arid conditions. The river, which is no longer the city’s primary water source, is 48 miles long and is a flash point for Los Angeles residents who argue over its eventual fate.
Both Anadol and Weil are known for making cities their canvas. In 2012, Weil turned Times Square into a visualization of groundwater levels around the world. And Anadol’s data-driven animations have been spotted in San Francisco and Istanbul.
“There's an emotional component to this, because it's our history, and it's also our future,” Weil tells Peters. Their art is part of a water-themed biennial that will run in spots around the city through August 14. Funded by DCA and Bloomberg Philanthropies through its Public Art Challenge initiative, the biennial connects the public to resources about water use and conservation and hooks them up with some great art at the same time.
The L.A. River, which is largely encased in a concrete channel designed to protect the city from flooding, is about to be restored into a greener space. That led to the recent demolition of the Sixth Street Viaduct Bridge, which was perhaps the most visible face of the river in TV and movies. (Terminator 2, anyone?) The face of the river may be changing for good—but for now, its hauntingly unnatural setting is the perfect place for the artists to make a statement about water.