Forecast Public Art / Public Art Review • Going with the Flow

Category : UnderLA


Source: Going with the Flow – Los Angeles’s first biennal uses public art as a catalyst to engage citizens in a conversation about water,  Angela D’avignon. Forecast Public Art / Public Art Review, February 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES – On a sweltering Saturday afternoon in July, I joined a handful of other spectators in crouching at the paved edge of the Los Angeles River. “Water has memory,” a voice said and echoed over the gentle stream where four women dressed in shades of gray stood knee-deep in the water, gesturing toward the sky.

The performance, called A Water Dream, was presented by Women’s Center for Creative Work and was among the first of many, happening simultaneously all along the river on the inaugural day of CURRENT:LA Water, Los Angeles’s month-long public art biennial, the first of its kind.

It was a confluence between the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) Public Art Division and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge, which in June awarded grants to four cities to develop dynamic public art projects that address critical urban issues. CURRENT:LA Water was the first iteration of what are planned to be regular, issue-driven biennials in Los Angeles. The initial theme of water was especially pertinent, as the region has experienced record drought for the last four years with Los Angeles making ongoing, citywide efforts to reduce its water usage and become more water independent.


Participation as Activation

As a massive but expertly organized collaboration between the city, artists, and supporting organizations, the biennial used a celebration of Los Angeles and its relationship to water as a strategy to engage with the public.

At the outset, a team of four LA-based curators worked with 16 artists—10 individuals and three teams of 2—to envision and engineer 15 temporary, site-specific works driven by socially engaged practices. Spread throughout Los Angeles County at water-significant locations like the Sepulveda Basin and Echo Park Lake, each artist considered their respective sites in relation to water. The ephemeral nature of the art allowed each site to become a gathering place for education and dialogue. In addition to the 15 sites, a volunteer and information center called the HUB, located at the William Mulholland Memorial, served as the nexus for the biennial, providing resource materials as well hosting panel talks and workshops.

Performance was another key strategy to activating each space and much of the work could not exist without the presence of its practitioners. Art duo and noise band Lucky Dragons invited the public to watch their open rehearsals for the first three weeks of the biennial, which resulted in their final performance, The Spreading Ground, featuring a chorus ensemble of unamplified voices that stretched the two-mile length of the Hansen Dam. Like evaporating water, the impermanence of these experimental performances pointed back to the location itself, highlighting the physical terrain in which they took place.

A major strength was in the programming, supported by a calendar of events named ConCURRENT, which relied on the public’s participation, with something scheduled for every day of the month-long biennial. These events demonstrated a wide range of scope: educational, cultural, and communal. They included water conservation workshops, tea ceremonies using purified water from the river, and KPARK, a day-long event where artist-run radio station KCHUNG broadcasted live from different participating parks. Social media was key in connecting the public and tracking engagement, with hashtag #CURRENTLA linking hundreds of Instagram images snapped all over Los Angeles County.

Directly addressing the dense urban sprawl of Los Angeles, the biennial not only offered something local for each neighborhood but also provided an opportunity to explore other pockets of L.A. According to Kate D. Levin, who oversees the Bloomberg Philanthropies Arts program, this social cohesion was part of the goal. “The conversations that take place in selecting sites, the conversations that take place with artists installing their work, and the conversations that take place among people who are visiting these works are all part of the unique kind of energy that we believe public art projects bring to cities,” said Levin.

In traveling from spot to spot, participants discovered a connected and integrated city while learning something new about the particular area where each work was located.


The Importance of Place

The story of Los Angeles is the story of water. “We’re here in this landscape shaped by the power of water—both in its presence and by its absence,” said Jon Christensen, journalist-in-residence in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA and moderator of “Water as Power,” one of three panel discussions held weekly at the HUB.

That Los Angeles is a desert is a myth, as it was once home to natural floodplains that in the 1930s led to a series of devastating and deadly floods. The Los Angeles River was then paved over and channelized, used as a massive storm drain system rather than a critical natural resource. If you were to ask, most Angelenos are not aware a river runs through their city, let alone know anything of its history. The site of the river is important in determining a sense of place in Los Angeles, and highlighting the physicality of the area points to how citizens can relate to the terrain in which they live.

Making Los Angeles more water independent has long been a concern of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, with a special focus on revitalizing the Los Angeles River. In line with these efforts, the biennial offered a specific glimpse into its already vibrant history—one that largely goes unseen.

For example, Refik Anadol and Peggy Weil’s video work UnderLA projected photographic images of the sedimentary layers beneath the city’s aquifers onto the concrete banks of the river near the First Street Bridge, revealing a geological context to the river’s origins. Similarly, Kerry Tribe’s film Exquisite Corpse, which was screened outdoors at Sunnynook River Park, captures one mile of the river per minute from Canoga Falls to the Glendale Narrows, to the shore of Long Beach. Each shot reveals the life of the river and its inhabitants, including cats, homeowners, historic graffiti-writers, firefighters, and skateboarders, as well as the landscape itself.

While many of the works were more conceptual than formal, some were sculptural and involved many hands to make them happen. Teresa Margolles’s considerable concrete structure La Sombra (The Shade) at Echo Park Lake is a monument to lives lost in Los Angeles. The artist commissioned a team to wash the sites of 100 individual murders throughout the city—of 975 committed between January 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016—then retrieved and used that water and the material it absorbed to mix the cement that was used to build her sculpture. The result is an enormous object that is both ominous and inviting, offering respite from the sun. Video documentation of the process was screened at local businesses around the Echo Park area, including a barber shop and a thrift store. Community-wide inclusion and representation were key.

Ambitious and far-reaching, CURRENT:LA Water aimed to catalyze long-term engagement within the city and among its residents. “It’s about the excitement of the individual works, then seeing them put together as a whole, and hoping that Angelenos discover something about themselves, something about their city, and something about each other in the course of experiencing this particular project,” said Levin.

The dialogues that began at the biennial are a means for continued civic engagement, as well as an innovative way for the public to learn about the city’s history and, together, imagine its future.




The Creators Project • Artist Duo Project Videos on the Banks of the LA River

Category : UnderLA

Source: Artist Duo Project Videos on the Banks of the LA River,  Andrew Nunes. VICE: The Creators Project, August 8, 2016

You’ll find more than an abundance of questionable, murky water in the LA River this summer: Artists Peggy Weil and Refik Anadol have joined forces to project a series of videos and animations along the 48-mile river until August 14th. Titled UnderLA, the video installation is a commission for CURRENT: LA Water, a public art biennial currently celebrating its inaugural year. With the whole city as a potential exhibition space, the project ended up in two specific locations: the First Street Bridge and at the origin of the LA River in Canoga Park. The five video sequences projected onto the river depict the inner geological workings of Los Angeles, showing the lithological soil and sediment that lie beneath the metropolis. The videos show a wide range of earthly depth, starting at 10 feet and reaching as far down as 1,400 feet beneath the soil, highlighting over 2 million years of geological development. The work is a meta-unraveling of what makes up Los Angeles; uncovering that which is underneath the city but rarely seen or discussed, displayed on the familiar surface its citizens interact with everyday.

Both of the artists came to the project from distinct backgrounds. Weil had previously worked on a project that visualized the data of global groundwater on signboards in Times Square while Anadol has worked with public architectural installations for the past 7 years, and created an incredible projection mapping show inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. As two LA residents working in large-scale installations, the LA Public Art Biennial revealed itself as an incredible opportunity to join their two crafts and create a meaningful artistic exploration into the science of their own city. “We inhabit such a small slice of space on land, and yet our lives and society are profoundly affected by our geology,” Weil tells The Creators Project.

The raw and (literally) underground footage of the project was not straightforward to acquire. After all, digging nearly half a kilometer into city soil is neither practical nor legal under most circumstances. Luckily for Weil and Anadol, the United States Geological Survey provided a helping hand: “I assumed there would be a comprehensive CG 3D model of the LA Basin and I reached out to Michael Land, a USGS hydrologist who began a series of conversations about how the USGS maps and monitors the basin,” Weil explains. “The minute I saw a photo of one of the boxes of soil samples I could see the entire sequence. I was struck by the beauty and variance of the samples and the stories they held. So while these images of layers of rock and silt and sand and clay don’t look like water, this is what water looks like under Los Angeles. It’s our history and it’s our future.”

Armed with footage rarely seen by surface-dwellers and with the city as their canvas, the duo set out to educate their potential audience: “One of the most critical parts of the project was it’s massive potential to create new forms of outreach for Los Angeles. I’ve been a part of many public performances around the world, but I’m always wondering why Los Angeles is lacking public interventions,” adds Anadol. “If we can bring any level of attention and awareness to the importance of water, I highly believe we’ve succeeded. And so far, the audience seems to be heading towards that direction.”

The Atlantic CityLAB • A 1,400-Foot Journey Through L.A.’s Groundwater Supply

Category : UnderLA

Source: A 1,400-Foot Journey Through L.A.’s Groundwater Supply, The Atlantic CityLAB, Eillie Anzilotti, August 4, 2016

California is drying up. The drought that’s plagued the state for the past five years shows no sign of relenting, and it’s taking a toll on the landscape of Los Angeles: lawns sit brown and thirsty, the Los Angeles River flows sluggishly.

A new art installation, UnderLA, adds another dimension to the reach of the drought. At two sites along the concrete banks of the L.A. River—the First Street Bridge and the river’s origin at the intersection of Arroyo Calabasas and Bell Creek—the artists Peggy Weil and Refik Anadol have projected a slow-moving journey 1,400 feet below the surface of the city. Scrolling through images of soil samples taken at intervals of 10 feet, the projections—commissioned by the City of Los Angeles as part of L.A.’s first public art biennial, Current:LA Water—detail the increasingly stressed and vulnerable aquifer system underpinning the city.

In a sense, Weil says, the installation is “a straightforward photographic landscape of these incremental soil samples.” The artists worked with researchers from the U.S. Geological survey to photograph soil samples taken from two Los Angeles wells, both located close to the projection sites; interspersed throughout the scrolling videos (below) are USGS data testifying to fluctuating water levels at those same well sites.

But watching the video play across the wide swaths of riverbank is a transformative experience. “As you descend in space, you’re also going back in time—at 1,400 feet, you’ve gone back 2.5 million years,” Weil says. In each aquifer layer, “there are recognizable fragments: shells, little bits of wood, colored rocks—things you’d see on the surface layer,” she adds. “But it’s incredibly moving to realize that they’ve been underground for that long, and that they’re forming a foundation we still depend on.”


Smithsonian • A New Installation Turns the L.A. River Into Art

Category : UnderLA

Smithsonian UnderLA
Source: A New Installation Turns the LA River into Art, SmartNews, Erin Blakemore, August 1, 2016

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.”


Fast Company • The L.A. River Is Now A Temporary Art Museum

Category : UnderLA

FastCo UnderLA

Source: The L.A. River Is Now A Temporary Art Museum, Fast Company Exist, Adele Peters, July 26th, 2016

Ask someone in Los Angeles where the city’s water comes from, and they might mention the Colorado River or the massive aqueduct that brings water hundreds of miles from the north. But some of the city’s water is also local. A new work of art called UnderLA, projected on the concrete sides of the L.A. River, shows the water hidden underground.

“We used the L.A. River as a canvas, and light as a material, and we project several visual stories,” says artist Refik Anadol, who collaborated with Peggy Weil on the project. It’s 1 of 16 installations up now around the city—on and around the river—as part of Current:LA Water, a new public art biennial.

Some of the projections in UnderLA show layers of sediment in local wells. “As you go down in depth, you’re also going back in time,” says Weil. “I think by 1,000 feet you’ve gone back a million years. There’s an emotional component to this, because it’s our history, and it’s also our future.” Another part of the visualization shows how water levels have risen and fallen with drought and overuse.

Over the next few decades, the city plans to dramatically increase the amount of local water it uses—partly by redesigning infrastructure so the little rainfall L.A. gets goes back into the ground, instead of draining down streets to the ocean. The artists wanted to make data about that groundwater accessible and interesting. “We tried to visualize this data by poetic connection,” says Anadol.

KCET Artbound • A Guide to CURRENT:LA Water

Category : UnderLA

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 3.45.02 PM

Source: A Guide to CURRENT:LA Water   KCET Artbound, Carren Jao, July 16, 2016

“UnderLA” by Refik Anadol and Peggy Weil at 1st Street Bridge, between Santa Fe Avenue and Mission Road, downtown Los Angeles, and at the mouth of the L.A. River, 6883 Owensmouth Avenue, Canoga Park.

Though it doesn’t flow, groundwater is very much a part of the city’s water system. Artist Peggy Weil and Refik Anadol finally let Angelenos see deep into the earth by projecting arresting images of porous rock capable of holding and transmitting water — L.A.’s aquifers — onto the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River.

The artist team worked with USGS geologists to obtain data and images of ground slices below an Angeleno’s feet up to 1,400 feet below the ground. The projection is a visual walk through time, says Weil. At 1,400 feet, the ground holds marks of events that can be traces as far back as 2.5 million years ago. The images are interspersed with data visualization that shows the rise and fall of water levels at different points in time. Its apices and nadirs are a reminder of Los Angeles’ continual struggle for hydration.