Metabolic Studio in Lone Pine — Part 4 of 4
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.
For more information on the Metabolic Studio and the silver-and-water project at Owens Lake, visit the following websites