Center for Art + Environment Blog

April 26, 2012   |   William L. Fox

Metabolic Studio in Lone Pine — Part 2 of 4

William Fox on Metabolic Studio in Lone Pine

The entrance to Emerald City, otherwise known as Metabolic Studio’s IOU Garden in downtown Lone Pine. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

The entrance to Emerald City, otherwise known as Metabolic Studio’s IOU Garden in downtown Lone Pine. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

The entrance to Emerald City, otherwise known as Metabolic Studio’s IOU Garden in downtown Lone Pine. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

Monday evening, and the progressive meals by Kevin West and Tom Hudgens (graduates of the renowned Deep Springs College nearby) have moved through a miner’s lunch (based on home-canned food such as sauerkraut) and into a Mexican dinner. The inspiration for the latter was a description by local author Mary Austin from her essential book, Land of Little Rain, which described an early-20th century Mexican-American settlement at the lower end of the valley.

The morning was spent in a group meeting laying out the parameters of water sources and usage throughout the Owens Valley, which ranged from ranching, the local Paiute Reservation wells, and local food production to the attempt by the bottled water company Crystal Geyser to expand its operations. Water ownership is mostly very simple here: the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power owns almost all of it. But the exceptions, like the Reservation and the family that owns the wells used by the bottled water company, are potential sources of transition for the towns here — to “get off the water grid,” as Lauren Bon puts it.

A complex part of the local puzzle is the court-ordered effort by LADWP to mitigate blowing dust caused by the anthropic drying out of Owens Lake. The consequent dust storms contain very unhealthy amounts of arsenic and the vastly more poisonous selenium, which cause problems for the towns downwind, such as Keeler.

Metabolic Studio’s effort is bimodal: it’s to change how the Owens Valley water is sourced, and also how LA uses water. Part of the briefing by Andy Lipkis, founder of the nonprofit Tree People, and artists Helen and Newton Harrison revolved around how to use wastewater in LA — ”mining the sewers” — in order to reduce the city’s water consumption, thus freeing up water to flow through the Owens Valley into the lake.

This evening’s meal is a potluck at Metabolic’s community garden in Lone Pine named Emerald City. It features dishes made from locally grown food, which is itself a trope for the rich web of public metaphors that Lauren Bon and her colleagues have deployed on behalf of social change here. The silver used in the early days of Hollywood was mined out of the mountains east of Owens Lake. “Emerald City” is both an allusion to the hidden powers controlling an urban myth in The Wizard of Oz, but also evokes the patchwork links of greenery that existed here when the river flowed. Metabolic Studio’s ongoing support of Master Gardener classes in the local foodshed are a patient social strategy where the art is deliberately kept almost invisible, but the potential for change is huge. Emerald City is also known as the IOU Garden; on one side stands an old red water truck used to bring rainwater collected at the Studio’s Los Angeles facility and brought to the Owens Valley, a symbolic repatriation of resources.

The artistic practice of Lauren Bon is to generate poetic and visual metaphors as inspiration for re-greening the valley and re-connecting Los Angelenos with the source of their water. The Studio then manifests those metaphors in actions, such as community gardens — hence “social practice” as an art form.

Potluck dinner at Emerald City, the IOU truck in the background. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

Potluck dinner at Emerald City, the IOU truck in the background. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.


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