Portable Wetland for Southern California
September 15, 2018 – February 2, 2019
Lauren Bon, an Ecological artist, holds Los Angeles’ first and only private water right—Permit #21342—which allows her to annually divert 106 acre feet of water from the Los Angeles River. This river water is redirected under railway tracks to Bon’s riverfront interdisciplinary atelier of collaborators, The Metabolic Studio. Here the water enters the ongoing project Bending the River Back Into the City, lifted by a waterwheel into an artificial treatment wetland comprised of native plants. The resulting regenerated water will then be redistributed to adjacent state and municipal parks on both banks of the river.
Echoing the Ecological Art legacy of The Harrisons (Helen and Newton Harrison), Portable Wetland for Southern California, exhibited in the courtyard of Various Small Fires, and based on Bending the River Back Into the City, is both an experimental proposal to remediate specific ecological dysfunction and a conceptual artwork, in the form of a sculptural modular system mounted on steel supports, composed of an array of artificial wetlands tubs, water tanks, a live audio amplifier, and other components.
As a waste water river, the Los Angeles River requires treatment before it can be safely used for irrigation. In place of the energy-hungry chemical treatments typically employed by utilities to treat the river water, Portable Wetland for Southern California mimics the means by which wetland streambeds naturally cleanse water. Each tub in the array is filled with scoria, crushed volcanic rock (sourced from the Owens Valley, the source of much of Los Angeles’ water supply), which has been planted with native plants from Southern California’s rivers and streams. Additionally, the tonal frequencies continuously emitted from the installation’s audio system acts as both antibacterial agent and plant growth catalyst.
Portable Wetland for Southern California is part of larger ongoing experiment being conducted at The Metabolic Studio’s project site, Undevelopment 1, downtown on the bank of the Los Angeles River, a live video stream of which will be installed at Various Small Fires throughout the installation.
Complementing the installation, in Various Small Fires’ sound corridor, is Symphony for a Portable Wetland for Southern California, a new sound work by The Sonic Division at the Metabolic Studio, composed of environmental field recordings sampled from the Owens Valley. These sounds of frogs in creek beds, birds, and crickets become an offering to all living systems in Los Angeles.
In conjunction with its exhibition of Portable Wetland for Southern California, Various Small Fires has installed a permanent rooftop photovoltaic solar array which will provide all of the energy used by the installation.
Lauren Bon and The Metabolic Studio (est. 2005, The Intermountain West). Metabolism is Greek for “change” or “exchange.” It is the process that maintains life and transforms nutrients into energy and form. The actions generated by the Metabolic Studio are global in focus and reach: developing new tools for urban living and city planning; inventing novel social practices for political and environmental justice; and directing art practice to engage on the same scale as society’s capacity to destroy.