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LANDSCAPES OF UNCERTAINTY

The point of departure for this investigation is the city of Los Angeles; a place where the forces of nature and culture collide, bringing forward a new kind of eco- system, one that does not necessarily coexist harmonically with its environment. Nature has ceased to be from a distance and has instead become entangled with the forces of man.

The continuous history of disasters, whether earth- quakes, fires, floods or droughts, as well as the accelerated rate of their happening in recent times, forces us to reflect on the origins of the city and the great infrastructures that have been pivotal for its development.

Our research is centered around one of the spinal cords of the city‘s growth and a history that through its dramatization has almost become fiction: The Los Angeles River and the city‘s quest for water in the Californian semi-arid landscape.

OWENS LAKE

Once 19 Km long and 13 Km wide, the Owens Lake dried up completely around 1926 and since 2013 has become the largest single source of air pollution in the United States.

As water was diverted to satisfy the hungry needs of a rising metropolis, the lake was left to wither and became covered in a thin layer of salt. The dust travels up and down the valley carried by the wind, lifting up a a toxic brew of arsenic and carcinogenic fine particles.

The project was operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct began as voters of Los Angeles approved the purchase of land and water from farmers in the Owens Valley in 1908. The divergence of water caused farmers and inhabitants alike to be displaced, leaving behind an ecological ruin and a reminder of the accelerated changes in the environment caused by the hands of man.

OWENS LAKE

Once 19 Km long and 13 Km wide, the Owens Lake dried up completely around 1926 and since 2013 has become the largest single source of air pollution in the United States.

As water was diverted to satisfy the hungry needs of a rising metropolis, the lake was left to wither and became covered in a thin layer of salt. The dust travels up and down the valley carried by the wind, lifting up a a toxic brew of arsenic and carcinongenic fine particles.

The project was operated by the Los Angeles Depart- ment of Water and Construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct began as voters of Los Angeles approved the purchase of land and water from farmers in the Owens Valley in 1908. The divergence of water caused farmers and inhabitants alike to be displaced, leaving behind an ecological ruin and a reminder of the accelerated changes in the environment caused by the hands of man.

OIL

The presence of oil in Los Angeles also played, and continues to play, a significant role in the development of the city as an elemental driver of the state‘s economy.
 

Tar seeps have been found around this area since pre- historic times and can still be seen today in places like the „La Brea Tar Pits“. But it was not until the first oil well was drilled by Edward Donehy that the real oil boom began. By 1930 California was producing around one quarter of the world‘s total oil output as the population grew to 1.2 million.


Doheny‘s success attracted more people to the city, and soon houses began to be built around oil wells and camouflaged machinery. With no regulation or planning, derricks began to sprout everywhere as Los Angeles grew into the largest urban oil field in the country.
 

Nowadays, fracking techniques used to extract oil, not only pose a threat to the earth‘s stability and to citizen‘s health, but also require large amounts of pressurized water. The impacts of these practices are still largely unknown but point to ground and sur- face water contamination, toxic methane emissions, as well as triggering of earthquakes.

SIMULACRA

Film can be described as the science of illusion and dates back to the end of the 19th century when Edward Muybridge created the first motion picture. Soon after, with the invention of the Cinematographe by the Lumière brothers, film began to become an elemental part of everyday life.

The centers for early film production in The United States were concentrated on the east coast, where patents were controlled by Thomas Alva Edison and his Motion Pictures Patents Company, known as „The Trust“. The restrained environment and high prices forced many filmmakers to flee towards the West Co- ast, far away from „The Trust“ and where good weather and cheap labor gave birth to the face of American cinema: Hollywood.

The city became a place of movie studios, empty buildings only to be used as movie sets, fake facades and car-driven mania. The image of Los Angeles be- came one that filmmaker Thom Andersen would later describe as „Los Angeles Playing Itself“. A city that built its own imaginary by concealing the very nature of itself.

FARMING

The completion of the Southern Pacific Railway also marked the beginning of a new era for agriculture in the city and began to change the image of the se- mi-arid landscape forever. The first citruses were planted by Spanish missionaries in 1700 in the San Fernando Valley, a site that remained largely rural until the 20th century, when the valley was transformed into a suburban wonderland of single family homes and green gardens.

After a series of droughts affected the area between 1862-63 , farmers began to adopt dry farming practices as a way of adapting to the semi-arid environment of the valley. Cattle practices were replaced by far- ming and Los Angeles became the largest and most succesfull farming territory in the nation between 1909 and 1949. Nevertheless unpredictable weather continued to affect farmers and irrigation systems were installed to ensure the productivity of the land. Extended irrigation was also a major cause for the impending need of water that led to the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Parallel to this farming development, an abstract idea of what native vegetation really is as palm Trees be- came the face of a new suburban dream and an icon to the city. These trees, of which only the California fan plant, Washingtonia filifera, is native to the area, require large amounts of water and provide very litt- le shade. They represent the ornamental and cultural practices that also contributed to the lack of water in the Valley.

TECHNOLOGY

Within the exhibition space, the plants embedded in the landscape are also connected to sensor devices that trigger a sound mapping made of the Los Ange- les River from its source way up in the Owen‘s Valley until its final destination: the sea. As visitors interact with the plants a sonic and invisible landscape is crea- ted, where the different layers and qualities along the river‘s path come to life. An auditory visualization of movement and flow through a cacophony of sounds and an interplay at the thresholds between the analog and the digital.