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Metabolic Studio in Lone Pine — Part 4 of 4

Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation gazes out across Owens Dry Lake from atop the gantry at Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Photo by Bill Fox, 2012.

Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation gazes out across Owens Dry Lake from atop the gantry at Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Photo by Bill Fox, 2012.

In the afternoon following the conversation at De La Coer Ranch, Janet Driggs from Metabolic Studio takes Matt Coolidge and me to the old Pittsburgh Plate Glass works on the edge of Owens Lake. I’ve driven by the multiple silos and sheet metal factory buildings for years, and it’s a wish come true to clamber atop the catwalks on the eighty-foot-tall cylinders. Mat and I have unparalleled views of the lake and the dust abatement ponds channeling water across forty square miles of the lakebed. Matt had once considered the site for a Center for Land Use Interpretation residence facility before settling on Wendover, and he’s keen to see what Metabolic is doing here.

Which turns out to be, among other things, the transformation that Richard Nielsen and members of the Liminal Camera project of the studio have wrought on one of the silos: constructing an enormous camera obscura inside to photograph the lake. The aperture is almost three inches in diameter and throws a spherical image across a 46-foot circular floor and up the walls for almost 360 degrees of coverage (with an ƒ-stop of 196 for you traditional camera geeks). Lauren has previously hosted musical performances in this space, one of the most acoustically live environments any of us have ever experienced, and is now embarked with her team on the construction of yet another immense metaphor.

The water from the Owens Valley, as previously mentioned, was used by Hollywood to process the film coated with silver from the mine at Cerro Gordo across the lake. The Liminal Camera team is capturing silver and other minerals in the lakebed to produce film, coat it with emulsion, then develop and fix it on-site after exposures have been made in the silo. Their darkroom is a portable Vietnam War-era U.S. Army darkroom that sits just outside. The camera is thus making a picture of the constituent elements of the photograph as both image and object, as nifty a trope for both the process of photography and the link between LA and the Owens Valley as can be imagined. Oh, and then there’s Lauren Bon’s idea that this modest mining of the lakebed for film can actually be a sustainable local business. More social practice.

Sitting inside the silo and looking at the projected image of the lake is eerie, meditative, and hilarious all at the same time. The lens projects the image onto enormous sheets of paper being developed into black-and-white test prints just outside the hatchway. It’s a clumsy, delicate, unpredictable process that produces images of a landscape that is naturally harsh, yet ironically made almost alien by virtue of its aridity created by human intervention. Lauren Bon, Richard Nielsen, and all the members of the Metabolic Studio have transformed the silo, an industrial ruin that Robert Smithson would have loved, into a giant instrument of metaphor.

Matt Coolidge peers at the three-inch lens mounted into the side of the silo camera. The green box in the background is the portable U.S. Army darkroom. The washing trays are in the foreground. Photo by Bill Fox, 2012.

Matt Coolidge peers at the three-inch lens mounted into the side of the silo camera. The green box in the background is the portable U.S. Army darkroom. The washing trays are in the foreground. Photo by Bill Fox, 2012.

For more information on the Metabolic Studio and the silver-and-water project at Owens Lake, visit the following websites

:http://www.metabolicstudio.org/

http://agh2o.metabolicstudio.org/

Metabolic Studio in Lone Pine — Part 3 of 4

Talking about water and soils at the De La Cour Ranch. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

Talking about water and soils at the De La Cour Ranch. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

The nature of social practice was never more evident than this morning, sitting in the upper reaches of the De La Cour Ranch some 1500 feet above the Owens Dry Lake. Lauren Bon and her studio had gathered together some of the major local food producers, many of whom use soil produced at the ranch for their gardens down below. Through the conversation action items emerged, such as locate the databases containing information about soil composition throughout the valley, and where all the water flows.

The ranch, which runs along Carroll Creek, was an early pack station for rich people exploring the mountains, and one of the birthplaces of the Sierra Club. The stream not only makes possible the ranch’s lavender gardens as a source of income, but is also the only source for electricity here. Sitting under cottonwoods and looking down at the geometry of dust abatement ponds out on the dry lake is a reminder that the water flowing by us never makes it to the lakebed, but instead is diverted to Los Angeles.

The De La Cour Ranch with the Owens Lake and its dust mitigation ponds in the background. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

The De La Cour Ranch with the Owens Lake and its dust mitigation ponds in the background. Photograph by Adam Levine, Courtesy of the Metabolic Studio, 2012.

The next town to the north from Lone Pine is Independence, the county seat, which has attained an unplanned zero population growth and teeters on the edge of unsustainable shrinkage. Lauren finds the name of the town a powerful metaphor for Independence becoming a site of transition away from dependance on LADWP–and that the accidental “ZPG” status is actually a positive and a possible role model for other communities.

We broke for another historically-derived lunch, this time of miso soup, dried nettle omelets, and glazed pork inspired by the Gardens of Defiance raised by the Japanese-Americans imprisoned at Manzanar during World War II. The camp was located midway between Lone Pine and Independence, and held more than 11,000 Japaense-Americans during the war. The gardens were symbols to the internees of spiritual and material independence from their guards, as well as being a source of healthier food than that provided by the military. The voicing of the metaphors generated by the juxtaposition of impounded water and imprisoned people, the gardens of Manzanar and the new community gardens in the local towns, are part of what makes this more than just a discussion about ecological restoration, but an art project.

Replica of an historic watch tower at the Manzanar National Historic Site, built in 2005. Photograph by Gann Matsuda, 2007.

Replica of an historic watch tower at the Manzanar National Historic Site, built in 2005. Photograph by Gann Matsuda, 2007.