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A Guide to Current:LA Water, the Biennial Bringing Art to 16 Locations Across the City

CurrentLA participants Kerry Tribe at Sunnynook River Park (header)

This summer, Los Angeles’ riverbanks and water-related sites will blossom to life despite the drought. Current:LA Water, a citywide public art biennial made by possible by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, is seeking to uncover the complexities inherent in water (or the lack of them) on urban life. Out of 237 cities, Los Angeles was one of four selected for the coveted grant. Patricia Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies says the grant not only aims to give cities an economic lift, but it envisions providing a “spiritual lift” as well.

Across 16 locations (15 designated sites plus a "hub") from Bee Canyon Park in Granada Hills to Point Fermin Park in Long Beach, site-specific artwork and public programming by international and Los Angeles-artists will provoke visitors to ponder the tangled web of connections water weaves in our city’s history. Initiated by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), Current:LA also seeks to build connections between the sometimes-siloed communities of Los Angeles, as well as to nature in the urban setting. Felicia Filer, co-executive director of Current:LA said, “Unlike exhibits in a museum, these site-specific works across Los Angeles beckon city dwellers to slow down, have a seat, seek shade, walk the bike path, until there is nothing left to do, but be.”

Here’s what to expect across the different sites:

UnderLA | Photo: Panic Studio LA
Refik Anadol and Peggy Weil, "UnderLA." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"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.

Edgar Arceneaux, "The CENTER of the EARTH" | Photo Courtesy of the Artist
Edgar Arceneaux, "The CENTER of the EARTH." | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

"The CENTER of the EARTH" by Edgar Arceneaux at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, 2657 Motor Avenue, West Los Angeles.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Edgar Arceneaux spotted two sculptures, each purporting to mark the Center of the Earth. Struck by the conflict even of these ancient sites, Arceneaux turned his eye to a modern relic of water -- fountains -- and refashioned them into an altar of sorts by dressing two fountains with chrome-plated rose gold. The two opposing altars are set near two large boulders, giving them an air of gravitas. With his competing altars of water, the artist gives municipal water an air of the mythical and also invites viewers to ponder the governing bodies that dictate its use in public life.

Mast | Photo: Panic Studio LA
Josh Callaghan and Daveed Kapoor, "Mast." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"Mast" by Josh Callaghan and Daveed Kapoor at South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, 5413 South Avalon Boulevard, South Los Angeles.

Referencing California’s colonial history, artists Josh Callaghan and Daveed Kapoor have created a sculpture that comprises a mast, sail and rigging. The duo used San Salvador -- the first European vessel to reach the West Coast -- as inspiration. The "Mast" doesn’t just function as an art piece, it is also meant to draw in the community by taking on public functions as a landmark space, offering spots to hang event posters -- and perhaps most importantly, offering shade.

Mirrorsite | Photo: Amanda Wiles
Mel Chin, "Mirrorsite." | Photo: Amanda Wiles.

"The TIE that BINDS: the MIRROR of the FUTURE" by Mel Chin at The Bowtie, 2780 West Casitas Avenue, Glassell Park.

Right now, the Bowtie Parcel is in an in-between phase. Once a forgotten rail yard, the 18.6-acre parcel is the site of ongoing artistic interventions. In the future, it is set to become one of California’s verdant park areas, if funding can be secured. While money and plans are still being finalized, the land sandwiched by the 5 and 2 freeways, as well as the Los Angeles River, is overrun with invasive plants. Artist Mel Chin re-imagines the sprawling land populated with a new landscape of native drought-tolerant plants. 

As a way for visitors to see the future ahead of time, Chin has designed eight model plots and duplicated this plant palette in eight private backyards. Angelenos are invited to envision this land in limbo garbed in its future glory. Chin is also providing residents with a chance to create these future landscapes in their own homes by making blueprints of his landscape design available to the public. Interested garden owners can work with the artist and a landscape designer to realize a section of Chin’s design for the Bowtie Parcel.

New Weather Station | Photo: Panic Studio LA
Chris Kallmyer, "New Weather Station." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"New Weather Station" by Chris Kallmyer at Normal O Houston Park, 4918 South La Brea Ave, Baldwin Hills.

In homage to the roots of weather modification in the Western United States (this is where silver iodide was first suggested for cloud seeding), artist Chris Kallmyer is once again setting up the Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification. Kallmyer sets this new department in a 20-foot open-air geodesic dome, a structure that alludes to the West coast’s many utopian ideals. The dome will host a series of events featuring artists, designers, historians, urbanists, and chefs all investigating the intersection of water and weather modification.

A Hard White Body | Photo: Panic Studio LA
Candice Lin, "A Hard White Body." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"A Hard White Body" by Candice Lin at Westside Neighborhood Park, 2999 Clyde Avenue, West Adams.

By equating whiteness to beauty, porcelain has undercurrents of racism. Artist Candice Lin fashions this material into inverted busts of Europe’s great explorers including Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake and Pedro Alvares Cabral. Lin further re-purposed these inverted busts as water filtration devices. As rain falls into Los Angeles, water flows through these busts, into terrariums, which activate the kombucha-making process that involves tea and sugar, two commodities of colonization. Lin’s "Hard White Body" weaves together the natural processes that involve water, as well as the region’s fraught history.

Delta | Photo: Lucky Dragons
Lucky Dragons, "The Spreading Ground." | Photo: Lucky Dragons.

"∆ (Delta)" by Lucky Dragons at Bee Canyon Park, 17307 Sesnon Boulevard, Granada Hills.

Water is a mercurial element. It slips and slides past, seeps into unknown places and appears where you least expect it. Performing arts duo Lucky Dragons references water’s strange attributes by instigating a series of performances at the park. Every weekday afternoon, performers will uncover a set of instructions on how to engage visitors at the park. These set of guidelines are not only meant to respond to L.A.’s water infrastructure, but also to surprise visitors out of their usual park-going experience.

"The Spreading Ground" by Lucky Dragons at Hansen Dam, 12272 Osborne Street, Pacoima.

Artists Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara (aka Lucky Dragons) conceived of a month-long series of workshops that culminate in a musical score to be performed below the Hansen Dam.

La Sombra | Photos courtesy of LA Department of Cultural Affairs for Current: LA
Teresa Margolles, "La Sombra." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"La Sombra (the Shade)" by Teresa Margolles at Echo Park Lake, 1698 Park Avenue, Echo Park.

Over the last year, there have been 975 murders in Los Angeles. A hundred of those murders were on public sites. Artist Teresa Margolles along with volunteers visited each of these sites, performed a cleansing ritual using water. This water was then remixed into the concrete that Margolles used to create a memorial for those victims of violence. The memorial also offers park goers a place to rest, meditate and reflect.

Kori Newkirk, "Prime." |  Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"Prime" by Kori Newkirk at South Weddington Park, 10798 Bluffside Drive, Studio City.

This summer, Angelenos will be greeted to the site of enormous fiberglass horses installed in a trench. An anti-monument, “Prime” reminds visitors of fountains bereft of water, as well as the West’s longstanding relationship with its equines.

Ides |  Photo courtesy of LA Department of Cultural Affairs for Current: LA
Michael Parker, "Ides." | Photo: Courtesy of the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs for Current:LA.

"Ides" by Michael Parker at Point Fermin Park, 739 West Paseo Del Mark, San Pedro.

Artist Michael Parker frames the Port of Los Angeles with a triumphal arch, a structure that has historically commemorated great military victories and other significant events. The arch frames the port’s parade of ships bearing towers of containers meant to fuel the country’s consumerist needs.

| Courtesy of the Artist
Gala Porras-Kim, "Suppliment to Ballona Discovery Park Informative Signs." | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

"Supplement to Ballona Discovery Park Informative Signs" by Gala Porras-Kim at Del Rey Lagoon Park, 6850 Esplanade Street, Playa Del Rey.

In every site, there are histories remembered and forgotten. Artist Gala Porras-Kim seeks to revive the hidden history of Ballona Discovery Park using the seemingly innocent park sign. Porras-Kim re-appropriated the look of the city’s current park signs and filled them with information on the parks’ controversial history. Almost 400 human remains of Gabrielino-Tongva tribe members were exhumed to make way for project.

Untitled 2016 | Courtesy of wHY
Rirkrit Tiravanija, "Untitled 2016." | Photo: Courtesy of wHY.

"Untitled 2016 (LA Water, Water Pavillion)" by Rirkrit Tiravanija at Sepulveda Basin, 6300 Lake Balboa Hiking Trail, Encino.

Angelenos will be surprised to find a waterfall by the Los Angeles River’s path, but that’s exactly what’s in store for them at artist Tiravanija’s site. The artist has built an intimate timber-frame structure, which doubles as a public space where events around water are held. Expect a blessing ceremony by Thai monks, tea ceremonies and communal cooking to happen.

Exquisite Corpse | Photo: Panic Studio LA
Kerry Tribe, "Exquisite Corpse." | Photo: Panic Studio LA.

"Exquisite Corpse" by Kerry Tribe at Sunnynook Park, L.A. River Bike Path, Atwater Village.

Not everyone can traverse all 51 miles of the Los Angeles River. Artist Kerry Tribe captures some of the scenery of each mile of the river into a serene 51-minute film that captures the varied landscapes, neighborhoods and people that can be found by the river. Its images present a whole picture of the river, which isn’t commonly seen by visiting just a few miles of the waterway.

Follow all events and programs for the Current:LA biennial at http://www.currentla.org/.

Top image: Kerry Tribe, "Exquisite Corpse." | Photo: Panic Studio LA. 

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