Lauren Bon: Life is Abundant


Welcome, everyone to the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speakers Series. Welcome, everyone to the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, My name is Chrisstina Hamilton, the series director. Today, here from the Metabolic Studio, we present Lauren Bon, an artist who works with architecture, performance, photography, sound and farming to create urban, public and land art projects. So every artist and designer from the Stamps School in the house should be inspired by something tonight. A big thank you to our partner for joining forces with us today is. Today is a co presentation with the Residential College’s Conference that is opening right now at this moment, The Community of Food, Society and Justice Conference. So a special welcome also today to anyone who is here for the conference. You’re joining us from near and far. This is a special keynote moment to open the conference which begins tomorrow morning at the Residential College. The conference will engage the broader community and farmers in rigorous dialogue around the ways we meet the nutritional needs of society while also protecting the planet, promoting healthy lives and ensuring food justice. So you can get more information on the conference. If now, you’re eager to go, I have bad news. It is fully registered. So you can’t join them if you aren’t already registered. But the good news is they are going to live stream the conference. So if you go to the RC website, you can find a link to the live stream on their home page. Just two announcements today. One, the Gratitude Campaign table is in the lobby this week. And we have Sam Plouffe and Zachary Williams in the lobby helping facilitate today. So for those of you who don’t know and are joining us for the first time with the gratitude table, we’re taking this fall season of gather to gather our thoughts around the series and its impact. And we ask that you who have been coming to the series for some time to join us in expressing gratitude by sharing your reflections and ideas about the speaker series through a letter to the Stamps family, Penny Stamps, our patroness who recently passed away, which is why we are doing this campaign for her family. We also have started Friends of the Penny Stamps Series Support Campaign. So you could also consider joining us to help continue the legacy of what Penny has built here. Breaking news, hot breaking news today. For those of you who are excited about the impending visit of John Cameron Mitchell in the special event we’re hosting on November 1st, Friday, he has decided that in honor of it being Halloween weekend, he wants to encourage folks to show up in costume. And we’ll be giving away free tickets to his one man show the following evening, to the best dressed. So don your best and parade in front and be judged by John Cameron Mitchell himself. Yeah, that’s actually All Saints’ Day, Friday, November 1st, the day after Halloween at the Bethlehem United Church which is just a few short blocks away from here, downtown on 4th St. Between William and Packard. We are going to have our regular Q&A style today in the screening room, directly following Lauren’s talk here. Please do join us. If you exit these doors and go left down the long hallway, before you get to the bathrooms, there’s another little theater, the screening room. And join us right there for a Q&A and meet Lauren. Do remember to turn off your cell phones. And now, for a proper introduction of our guest, we have writer and professor of environmental literature, environmental justice and sustainable food systems. She’s also the Director of the East Quad Garden at the Residential College. And she is the conference chair for the Community of Food Society and Justice Conference. Please welcome Virginia Murphy. Thank you, Chrisstina. And thank you to the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series for co hosting the Residential College Community of Food, Society and Justice Conference. I hope to see many of you there tomorrow or live streaming if you’re not able to join us in person. In the 1960s and 1970s, following the great social and cultural movements that swept our nation, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, anti war protests and, of course, Earth Day, a new form of art evolved called land art. This art used the environment on a grand scale to highlight the ecological changes wrought by human activity. It arose, according to art critics of the time, because dissatisfaction with the current social and political system results in an unwillingness to produce commodities which gratify and perpetuate that system. There are a great number of artists and installations associated with this movement, Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake, Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield in what is now Manhattan’s Battery Park, and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative. Standing within this esteemed field of artists is today’s speaker, Lauren Bon. Lauren Bon’s Metabolic Studio is a powerful force for innovation, developing new tools for urban living and city planning, social practices for political and environmental justice, and directing art practice to engage on the same scale as society’s capacity to destroy. Bon’s Not a Cornfield. In, 2005 and 2006, on the site of the recently opened Los Angeles State Historic Park, transformed a derelict train yard into a thriving commons and created the possibility for a deeper public consciousness and a sense of shared stewardship of the state. Having taught Bon’s Not A Cornfield, I can attest to the power… Of its power to change lives. The installation not only transformed a brown field, the very definition of the site of industrial waste, it transformed the beliefs of my students about what is possible to achieve. Bon’s current project, Bending the River Back Into the City, culminates 13 years of her commitment to reconnecting the LA River to its flood plain and a constellation of acts of restitution of soil and water, rightful responsibility to our environment, and the reunification of the human spirit with its material survival. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to introduce Lauren Bon as the Penny Stamps’ distinguished speaker and the opening speaker for the Residential College Community of Food, Society and Justice Conference. Please, join me in welcoming Lauren Bon to the University of Michigan. Thank you so much for the warm welcome. First, I’d like to acknowledge the First Nations people of this land for the opportunity to be present here on your territory. I come from a very different place, a place west of the Rocky Mountains, a place that is really marked in particular by its aridity. And a lot of the work that I’ve done over the last 15 years is on the land of the Tongva and the Gabrielino Indians, and what then became the historic core of the city of Los Angeles in the mid part of the 19th century. Before Los Angeles existed as part of the United States, Chicago was the West. So, it’s interesting that 150, 160 years later, the very rapid growth of the West in the post Civil War era has created this sort of land use portfolio that is perhaps best personified… Or not personified, but “animalifed” by the mule. When Europeans got to the United States, they really believed that somehow, we could navigate the entire continent and get to the Pacific Ocean. And they brought over the mule from Europe in order to build that channel. And that first attempt was the Erie Canal. For the centenary of the opening of the LA Aqueduct in 2013, I worked with mule packers who I had met in work that I’ve been doing in the watershed to create soil, to commemorate the labor force that really made the American continent’s infrastructure possible, which is the mule. So we wanted to start this talk about food and fuel by acknowledging the mule for its production of food in the form of carbons. And here we are on the Verdugo path, reflecting on the laws of the conservation of energy and thinking about the exploitation of ecosystems as a way to bring consciousness to 100 years of keeping water in an arid land from moving where it wants to go, in order to make property safe and secure. There we are over the skyline of Los Angeles. That’s a skyline that you’ll see often in my presentation. We’re looking west to the Pacific Ocean on the Verdugo Mountains. And we’ve now finished four weeks on mule back from the place where water is redirected, from the Eastern Sierra, at the intake of the LA Aqueduct. It takes four weeks to walk with 100 mules, 240 miles to downtown Los Angeles. Now, that strategy to move water where people want it isn’t new. It’s been around for millennia. Nor is moving mules new. Looking back in preparation for this talk, when prompted to think about my own journey and to talk to you from my own personal experience, I was taken back to being a new graduate from college in 1989, and going to visit Belgrade, Yugoslavia. And when I got there, they were preparing for a socialist conference. And coming from Boston at that time, I was very aware that you would never leave an open trench on the street for fear of a lawsuit. So, I was very surprised when I got to Belgrade, that in order to really show what a very developed socialist country was doing. They repaired the infrastructure of their water supply and made a display of it. So here I was in 1989, just starting to think about what art practice could be, and I run across this scene and I decided to carry around a sign throughout the city which signed my name to these found infrastructure projects. As if just by understanding that infrastructure can be art, was the beginning of something important for me. After all, what if art doesn’t need to be sold in the market? And what if art exists below the level of the scene? Into the unseen? And what if art is about the fluency of a liquid medium that brings life itself to so many living systems? Years later, I found myself in Los Angeles. Now, here are two pictures. The one on the left, taken in 1938, catalyzed the results on the right. So, if any of you have ever been to the West, you’ll notice that most of our rivers are actually flood control strategies. So the Los Angeles River that exists today is not in fact the wild, unbridled river you see in the picture on your left. It’s in fact, the storm control strategy you see on the right. And recently… As recently as last week, when I’ve begun the construction of Bending the River Back Into the City, I had the opportunity to be in the River channel. And it all of a sudden occurred to me that that channel is actually a physical model of the scale of the potential destruction of a flood. So what that really means is, imagine this wild raging river that would throw boulders out when rain came and create a huge amount of destruction in the same place that Hollywood was beginning to emerge and property values started to become expensive. At that time, the strategy to resolve that wild, destructive force of a river was to put a concrete box. Basically, a U shaped box with flared sides on top of it. So that in the worst case scenario of a massive flood, all of that water would just move out to sea and wouldn’t affect property or lives very much. And it’s worked very well. As you can see on these two slides, images that we took last week. This is one day apart from the same location. The image on the left is the low flow channel of the Los Angeles River, and the image on the right is after a drizzle. So, it doesn’t take very much rain at all to swell the Los Angeles River. So imagine what the river looked like when there was a week of even moderate rain. So, the picture on the left here is an image of Los Angeles before the river was channelized. And the picture on the right gives you an idea of how the managed water supply of the Intermountain West is configured. So that all of the main rivers that flow from the Eastern Sierra and the Western Rockies, flow into dams that produce electricity, flow into aqueducts that bring water to important cities of the West like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Tucson, Phoenix. We’re basically all in a very managed watershed. Which brings us to the continent, the great American continent, which before the 1860s was… The heartland was full of these incredibly beautiful buffalo that would move all the way from the Gulf of Mexico almost to Alaska. These incredible creatures were pollinators of sorts, they would feed on the wild grasses. And as they ranged, their sharp hoofs would break up the clay pan of the soil. And as they pooped, the seeds of the grasses would… Through their hoof marks, fall back into the rich topsoil of the prairies and self propagate and self diversify the Americas. These animals also have a kind of large and poetic place in my own life. In 2001, I came back from Europe where I’d been living for a while to Los Angeles. I had two little kids with me and I took them camping on Catalina Island which is an island just off the coast of Long Beach, California. And I went out there with all the stuff little kids like to do games, and things to barbecue, and sweets to eat, and stories to read. And we got out there in Catalina, and we got in our tents, and we fell asleep. Then I woke up thinking I heard something funny. And I came outside the tent and we were surrounded by a herd of buffalo. And I thought, “Okay, that’s the one thing I really didn’t expect to find on the island.” Turns out when I did a little bit of research, that these buffaloes were brought from the Lakota tribe, in South Dakota in the 1920’s, to make a film called “The Vanishing Americans”. And after they made the film, they left the buffaloes on the island and they had over bred and grown outside of their habitat. And at that point, the buffaloes were being sold for dog food. And when I realized that, I realized that somehow, something had to be done. And this body of work that I call the metabolic cycle really began with my social practice work of organizing the first repatriatization of the buffalo. I managed to work with the tribes of the southwest to raise enough money to airlift these buffaloes back to Long Beach and send them back to the Lakota tribe. Crazy but true. This journey made me start to think about the Haz Belt of the North American continent. This drawing I made, now a photogram, reveals the rivers and streams of the Americas before the railways, before the roads, before the channels, before industry. And it’s an incredible capillary nervous system of waterways. And we know that water is life. So to go back to the Lakota to bring the buffalo back to the Lakota, was a very special beginning. And after that had happened, I was in New York and I woke up in the middle of the night with this vision of a blue corn field. And the blue was a certain kind of sodium vapor light that is very particular to downtown Los Angeles. And I put this in to just talk about the difference between the Haz Belt of the United States and the world that I live in, Los Angeles, which is this other kind of neural system of infrastructure. But what I was gonna say is that, Grandpa Roy, the Lakota healer, told me a year after “Not a Cornfield” was finished, that he sent me that vision of the blue cornfield because he recognized from his teachings, the Lakota teachings, that when the buffalo is returned to the tribe by a white woman, that it’s the beginning of another cycle for humans on this planet. And he also helped me to understand that you would always know the difference between a vision and a dream, because a vision is something you know that you need to act on right away. So after I had that vision, I went to Sacramento to talk to people who were in charge of the piece of the city. You’ll sort of recognize from my drawing the skyline out in the distance that we saw as the mules passed over the Vergudos. But that skyline in the background in my drawing anchors you to where that yellow is. Now, that yellow band at the time that I received this vision from Grandpa Roy was a derelict train yard, a brown field incapable of supporting life. A brown field in science usually refers to a place where almost nothing can grow. There were certain things that were growing there, and those things play an interesting role in our story today. For example, tree tobacco, which is this incredibly crazy strong invasive plant was all over the place, even after 50 years of nothing else growing there. This is a bit of a segue into a later story. But just to sort of give you the post apocalyptic good news. Life is abundant, our lives are negotiable here. Mother Earth will take back any project that doesn’t in some way give back to her. And tree tobacco is a really good example of that. This survivor plant digs its tap roots down deep into the soil, even the most polluted toxic brown field. And in doing so, it cracks up the soil at a very deep level. And if you then start to take care of the top soil, and re grow it, somehow the seed bank that the tobacco has unleashed, manages to pop up plants that nobody seems to have seen for 100 years. And on top of that, the tree tobacco seems to take up arsenic. So there’s a place to understand in the life cycle of places, that every place is the narrative of its own becoming. Even places that seem to have been ground to a halt. So the state park had been given as a law settlement, this 32 acre defunct train yard to hold in trust as a park. California has a massive network of state parks. In fact, it’s the largest state park system in the United States. But there weren’t any urban state parks and there were certainly weren’t any that we’re not capable of supporting any life. So they thought, “Okay, how bad can it be? We’ll let this unusual request to plant blue corn on a derelict train yard that won’t grow anything, that’s been settled in out of court gentrification battle, to at least cleanse the soil.” So we quickly brought in 30 truckloads of amended soil from different projects around the city and look what happened. The Chlorophyll Revolution. 32 acres of corn were grown on a property known colloquially as “The Cornfield”. So when I had gone to the state park, and I told them that I’d like to grow 32 acres of corn. I had talked about corn being used as a remediation for all kinds of things that make a brown field incapable of supporting life, like arsenic, like led, like petroleum. But they were concerned because the colloquial name “Cornfield” was harkening back to a pre settler colonial time when the Tongva would harvest something very like corn on this site. So they said to me that there was no historic proof that anything like corn ever grew on this site. So I said, “Well, why don’t we call the project ‘Not A Cornfield’ just to make sure that everybody understands that it’s not a cornfield that we’re harkening back to?” So here you have a cornfield called Not A Cornfield, which now… I meet a lot of people who were kids on this place and always… Even though it’s now a park, say, “Oh, I remember the cornfield.” And it’s ironically a state historic park. So when I was working on Not A Cornfield, even though… If you look again at this image, you can see the purply magenta line is the LA River, I couldn’t access the LA River to irrigate the 32 acre parcel that you can see here was cleaned and graded and new soil brought onto the property. I had to run irrigation stripping and connect it to the LA water supply. That’s a lot of irrigation stripping. I wanted to know how much it was and put it out in the world in a way LA people can understand ’cause we all drive all the time. We laid 90 miles of irrigation stripping in order to irrigate this 32 acre parcel of land. And it was in that period of time that I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be good and wouldn’t it be right if we could somehow pick up the waste water river that’s in the LA River, even during the hottest times of the year? Wouldn’t it be good if we could redirect even a small part of that flow so that we could connect this historic flood plain of the unbridled river with the life giving properties of water again?” So, Bending the River Back Into the City began pretty much at the same time as Not A Cornfield, as a pretty common sense idea. It’s like, “Why would you just give all that water to the ocean when all of the flood plains of what was the unbridled river are not receiving anything?” So the idea that I had was to make a device that wouldn’t require any extra fuel, that would run on the flow of water itself. And as it turned out, historically, that very property that Not A Cornfield was on, used to have several historic water wheels. Now, those water wheels were for energy to run mills along the industrial train yard. But they were pushed by the flow of water that was being channelized from the unbridled river to El Pueblo or the first settlement. So I thought, “Well, would it then be good if we looked at the water wheel again?” This is again something that we’ve known to work for thousands of years without any added energy. So here are my first renderings showing how the Metabolic Studio building could be turned into a sort of water and power station, where we could regenerate the waste water river. We could bend just a small portion of it, have that small portion hit the blades of a water wheel, and that push would lift the wheel from the low point of where the LA River channel is, to the high point, 40 feet above current grade. And at that point, it could be released into the arms of a native basket of woven willow and treated in native wetland before it could be given to the flood plain again, if the flood plain could take it. So the idea of finding out how can the river be reunited with the floodplain when the floodplain no longer is identified as a floodplain, it’s identified as a State Historic Park. So part of the way that I’ve discussed this with people is we need to sequester carbon. Now in downtown Los Angeles where this strategy to control the wild river is at its bleakest in this ubiquitous forest of concrete and steel and plastic, we desperately need trees and we can’t really have trees if we don’t have a water supply. So to control the idea that a river, a meandering river could move again on this regenerated waste water river, I drew this rendering to show what five years from now, East Los Angeles could look like and what kind of effect that putting trees in school yards, putting trees in community centers, putting trees in state parks, city parks extending the pollinator field for the pollinators in Elysian Park. What it would do? Looking at that drawing from the air, you’ll see this target, the center of the target is where the bend in the river will be, the ripple effect of that target is a pollinator eve smith, a place that is looking to transform an industrial brownfield into an oasis for living systems that goes past normal land use ideas of is this going to be a park? Is this going to be condos? Is this gonna be low income housing into thinking, how are the living systems to benefit without a new notion of entitlement that it counts for living systems who can’t speak for themselves? So this target is a way to negotiate land use when exchange of ownership isn’t really necessary. And this story, of course, takes us to a whole system of what ifs, like, what is nobody needed to own land anymore. And what if we acknowledge that our watershed flows to us from snow that falls from the sky in the Eastern Sierra, and what if the city of Los Angeles that bought up all the land between the city and those mountains relinquished it, so that we could again figure out how to live in harmony with super predators, like grizzly bears, and condors and red tailed hawks, and wild cats and deers and bucks. And what if all of the livestock animals that we brought out to the Eastern Sierra to manifest the destiny of the great American project 100 years ago were now re patronized like the Buffalo and considered part of this new nature. What if we didn’t slaughter the wild horses that are ranging in the great deserts of the Intermountain West, but welcomed them for their soil producing capacities. So, this long march, this one month performative action that we took for the centenary of the opening of the aqueduct was this consciousness for our team itself, to understand the watershed that we are partaking in and to figure out how to document that, we started by a performative action in the center of the scar of the city of Los Angeles. There was a 100 mile scar, it’s called the Owens Dry Lake. It’s held in trust as a water body, even though there’s been no water in it again since the 1930s, the water was, it took 20 years for that 100 mile lake to dry up. And today, it’s part of the Federal Government’s Environmental Protection Agency portfolio, because it’s the worst propagate of carcinogenic dust in the world, at least in the northern hemisphere. And I think it’s still in the world, because the great winds that rush through this valley lift the carcinogenic dust into the cloud strata and dust the most ubiquitous material on planet earth goes over the Pacific to China, drops into the Pacific Ocean and becomes a kind of cocktail of arsenic and other horrifying things which have now been all mixed in with Fukushima’s radioactive waste. Not a pretty picture. So we decided to start to document at the studio, the scale of infrastructure collapse in the United States and we started to do it in a way that would be environmentally least worse. We built our own camera out of a shipping container in an electric truck, we go across the United States and we chose to mine silver from a mine on the other side of this Great Lake, and we use silver because when we make our giant prints, we take the water out of the bath of the prints and we get these nuggets of silver out of it. So we’re mining silver from our photographic affluence, and we sell this silver in order to fund our projects. And here, you see us descending into the mines of the Inyo, into the mines that brought people racing from the East Coast, racing from the Deep South, in search of a new epistemological way of life, trying to escape the dichotomies of the East and the South and the North, to move west in order to rethink what culture could be. This was the time that we, federal government, overspent on the building of the railways. And the discovery of silver was what allowed us to rethink how to get ourselves out of debt. So silver mining was a really important way forward in the 1880s. We think that today’s silver mining is the production of soil. So in that very place that silver mining and mule packing is going on, in that place of the Owens Valley, the source of our water in Los Angeles, we’ve started a soil producing engagement called the IOU Soil Project. And here are some of our team loading homemade soil into bags for distribution for free at a garden called the IOU Garden on Main St. In Lone Pine. This garden is a property owned by the LADWP, the Department of Water and Power. And getting them involved in this action of giving away soil has been interesting. People are coming to dinners that we host and food that we grow with soil that we make. And we think of soil as a new kind of silver currency, something that those of us thinking that artists need to create on the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy. We understand that it takes 500 years to repair the top soil that’s been destroyed. So backing dirt, turning money into dirt, dirty money is the way forward. Here, we are doing our soil production in the aftermath of Not A Cornfield. Again, you’ll see this historic viewpoint of downtown Los Angeles. And what you see in that circle is approximately a one acre territory that we were able to negotiate with the park system as essentially a compost monument we called Cornhenge. And Cornhenge was a space that we were allowed to take care of while those bales of corn fodder disintegrated. And those disintegrated bales formed this garden. So in the years that we took care of that space, which was seven, and I wanna call out to all the many people who worked to cultivate this space, including my colleagues who are here with me tonight, Milly and Haimet, who will be here answering questions and answers. We did this as a guerilla action because technically speaking, it’s against the law to grow food on a public park in Los Angeles. So the growing of food and medicine in this one acre Cornhenge piece of territory was one of these things that our studio likes to do to push the needle just a little bit so that we can think about growing a capacity to think about what having good soil and having access to water, having access to a seed bank and having access to community engagement, what does that do for the real economy of a place? As opposed to say, more typical strategies of revenue stream like expensive rock concerts that also happen in the park, but actually wreck lots in the meantime. So we started to think to ourselves, “Well, how could we bring the river to places rather than just connect the river, a bend of the river through an underground pipe to a waterwheel?” I found out by now, by the time that we designed Portable Wetland for Southern California, I was six years into trying to harvest the 70 federal, state and local permits that I needed to get to just cut two concrete circles out of the LA River in order to bend just a small portion of it. And I was like, “Well, what if this never happens? How can we help life emerge in this incredibly arid place?” And we realized that if we could fill trucks with LA River water under cover of darkness, we could bring that water to a portable wetland and do the same thing on a small scale that we could do on a grander scale with permits. So Portable Wetland for Southern California, what you see on the left, is a strategy that just using Home Depot racks and a gravity feed, we took a series of bins and networked them. And we put inside of those bins plants that normally grow in rivers in the arid west. Native plants. And with the help of scientists, we figured out what we needed to plant in order to cleanse the water enough that we could grow food or medicine in it. So we’re actively, right now, moving Portable Wetland to create these novel mini ecosystems in a place that’s highly difficult to grow things in. And so this drawing where you see the meandering floodplain shows you these sites. Wherever you see the meandering rock like structures are the sites that Metabolic Studio is currently cajoling with those portable wetlands of LA River water moving through them. And these are these mini novel urban ecosystems. I say novel because they’re full of strange things. They’re no longer nature. They’re full of parking spaces and tarmac that we go around and puncture holes in. They’re full of… You dig down 20 feet and you find yet another concrete foundation from something else. But in every little nook and cranny, when light and air seem to touch, they explode with life. And we realized, well, what if these novel mini urban ecosystems are the new nature? What can we learn from that? So here, the drawing on the left shows what I finally got the permits to do one month ago. I finally got the Army Corps permit. And being allowed to divert the low flow channel of the LA River by inserting a very long, a half mile pipe into the LA River under the concrete. And that will bend and go under the railway tracks and hit a waterwheel which will lift the water, some small part of the water up and out of the river and into that wetland. And what we don’t lift will boomerang around. And you can see that U shaped bend. It will go right back out. So what they’ve permitted me to do is called a diversion of the Los Angeles River. So I finally got wind that this was likely to happen when I got a call from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power saying, “Well, congratulations. It looks like this project is going to be allowed to move forward, which is great news. But we need to tell you, you’re gonna have to pay us for all of the water that you lift out of the river. You’re gonna have to pay us to give it away for free.” So that was a bit of a bummer. And I said, “Well, that’s going to really affect the replicability of this project. And the whole idea is that this small transformation of what will amount to about 50 acres of urban forest ultimately, it needs to be replicatable up and down the 51 miles of LA River for it to be operating on a scale that’s required to sequester enough carbon that the life web can survive even the next 20 years.” So they told me that I could apply for a California water right. And I got one. So it just goes to show you that times are changing. I managed to get water right number 21432. That means I have two thousandth 100… No, 21 thousandth water right in the state of California, but the first in the city of Los Angeles, private water right. And that’s a really big deal because it means that people who are invigilating water supply are starting to think that there is a direct benefit to citizen stewardship of the water supply. And definitely in Michigan, I know you know what I’m talking about. It’s a lot to process, for sure. This is the actual document, the water supply, that shows you, you can see the big thing that looks like an Egyptian eye. That’s the 32 acre cornfield. You can see the boxed places that let you know where the point of diversion is and where the primary place of use is. Again, most of our water, most of the 106 acre feet of water that I’ve been allowed to move will be going to the State Historic Park. So here we are last week, lifting the first 5,000 pound triangle of federal concrete out of the LA River. And… Thank you. I still can’t believe this is happening. So I wanna show you a little video here ’cause it was such an exciting moment. The construction workers, of course, were… Never did anything like this themselves. So this lifting of 5,000 pounds of concrete was something special. So, when we looked underneath this concrete what we found was the flood plain of the unbridled river. It never occurred to me that under the concrete of the river was the river. I don’t know why I somehow, even as much as I knew about the river, there it was. Tons of boulders that used to rush down that wild river, silt, a seed bank possibly even seeds that will still grow. So we decided to move every bit of that flood plain that we could pull out of the ground to one of our novel mini ecosystems that is the title of this talk tonight. The project space is called “Life is Abundant”. And it’s a space where I’ve taken together with my team six, six 60 foot circles of tarmac out of a tow yard. It’s a famous tow yard where OJ Simpson’s Bronco was towed after the famous street race. There’s nobody in LA that was clubbing in the ’80s that didn’t get their car towed there. And we’ve thought, “Well, what if we are in search of the flood plain? What if we slowly undevelop this tow yard and we take these circles out? What will we find?” And I realized that on the bottom of these triangles that we were lifting, we would find what I had hoped to find, and hadn’t found yet on the project on development one site. Which is you can see the wash of the wild river on the bottom of these triangles, the rocks are embedded in the concrete that was just poured right on top. And here are the triangles that we have taken out, these triangles the photograph is taken by our liminal camera, our camera in a shipping container. And these 5,000 pound triangles will line the walls of the pit that will hold the water wheel. So when come to the site, you’ll be able to connect viscerally with the flood plain of the river. Just in the tactile and sensory way that you’ll be able to touch those primary rocks of the flood plain. And speaking of primary rocks, look what we found. These are 10 ton riprap. Now, riprap, I didn’t even know that word three weeks ago, are big granite boulders that were brought down when the river was channelized to support the infrastructure being built. And then they would just cover them with concrete. And when we did our incision of triangles and dug out 8 feet of flood plain, we hit these boulders these 10 ton boulders which were so incredible to see. And here’s a collage that we just made which shows that our intention for these novel many urban ecosystems to emerge, we are telling our array of parks, “Wouldn’t it be great if we can excavate the flood plain that’s underneath the concrete river, and reconnect the flood plain of your parks with the primordial earth silt and stones that were there.” So, this rendering is hopefully the bend in the river, what you’ll see when you visit in a few years. Is you’ll see, the river moving on either side of its current concrete jacket in the actual arms of its own flood plain. And here is an aerial view of “Life is Abundant,” here are the six 60 foot circles that have been excavated with a small rendering which shows you the future vision when these circles eventually become part of that urban forest. We, only trees that we have planted so far are trees we brought back from the Owens Valley, the cottonwoods that were dying as a result of there being no water to feed them. And they’re thriving on this site. And this was a quick collage that I put together to show you the last 10 years. You can see on the top left the tow yard. And you can see on the bottom right the most recent Google… These are all pulled from Google Earth, which I always think is an interesting way to see work to scale. It is not necessarily what I’m documenting, but what satellites are documenting about the transformation of the same place. So these six, 60 foot circles of tarmac that we’ve removed have each been sort of study circles, research circles, into what would happen if we plant some native plants that facilitate a landing ground for birds, bees, and butterflies. And just then create the context by developing soil by composting, soil amending, collecting manure from our mule packer friends. What if we just create the context for life’s abundance, what if we just catalyze self propagating, self diversifying feedback loops that can support themselves, then maybe we can speak to the diversity of all living systems that also have a right to life. And just this month, we discovered that we have a coyote resident on life is abundant. Here is our coyote on top of one of our piles of soil. It’s now his home, and interestingly enough, the rabbits and the cats and the other wild animals that are living here with him, he doesn’t seem to wanna eat them. He seemed to be moving in these mini novel ecosystems that are emerging around the LA River and all these systems seem to be thriving. So I wanted to talk about when do you know as an artist working with metabolic systems that your work is successful, do you know it successful when you do a project like not a corn field for one agricultural cycle or when you’re able to continue the momentum by taking the fodder from that corn and holding a small space for that fodder to disintegrate in farm soil, when you cultivate community and ceremony over the growing in that one acre space of food and medicine, when the raptors continued to feed in that area or when you finally realize that you’ve been part of some read booting of a place that was just 15 years ago incapable of supporting life, and all of a sudden is a place that has supported a complex and diverse scenario for the life web as seen by having a predator like a coyote living there. So here’s a picture from the air of this complex network of mini novel ecosystems. And I’m going to start to bring this to closure to talk about the role of politics in the conversation of a water right number 21432. This black floor represents the 124 feet of pipe that this last month we laid into the floodplain plain of the river. Not without complexity, not without misgivings, that pipe we laid was a petroleum based product that we inserted into the floodplain. We decided to go ahead and do that so that we could talk to the engineers about the rest of it, but to be able to talk about how we as artists can interface with the federal government, who owns the Army Corps… Who owns this project and d the Army Corps takes care of it. The Army Corps of Engineers. Underneath that the floodplain I touched is property controlled by the city of Los Angeles. This project has put us in touch with them. We had cultural monitors from the Tongva tribe with us while we did that. We asked their permission to do this work and were tasked with looking for important artifacts that might be there like sea shells that are a normal part of the burial ritual for the Tongva. Sometimes you need to choose to make compromises as an artist in order to get the primary job done. And I think that that’s where our generation of art practice is different from the earthwork artists of the 70s and 80s. We no longer can make aesthetic objects that don’t function to give back to mother earth. All of our collective work needs now to think about not just what our art supplies, and our art practice takes from the earth to make but what we as artists and thinkers can give back, artists need to create on the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *