Andrés Jaque/Office for Political Innovation: Different Kinds of Water Pouring Into a Swimming Pool at REDCAT
The story of Los Angeles is the story of water. Since the creation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct by William Mulholland 100 years ago this month (fictionalized in Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown), water has been intimately tied to power, status, and politics in Southern California. Here, more than in any other major U.S. city, water is an essential part of the urban landscape. Who has access to it and what they do with it are questions that define public and private space, shaping and dividing communities.
Architect Andrés Jaque and his Madrid-based Office for Political Innovation addresses this phenomenon in his current exhibition at REDCAT, Different Kinds of Water Pouring Into a Swimming Pool. The title references a work by David Hockney—another European artist who was similarly fascinated with Angelenos’ relationship with water upon moving to LA in the mid-1960s. Jaque has created four installations that address the various ways our domestic lifestyles are structured around pools, lawns, gardens, and Jacuzzis. These are not precise architectural models, but rather playful constructions that evoke different ways in which individuals and communities interact with water.
Jaque builds these works from household and backyard objects, and simple plumbing elements, to craft DIY fountains and gardens. In one piece, clear plastic bins stacked and filled with soil and rocks recall a terraced garden sprouting chilies, rosemary, and other herbs and vegetables. I imagine this is what Robert Smithson’s home garden would have looked like. In another, water cascades down primary-colored towers of bins, funnels, scoops, pails, bowls, tubes, and tubs. It resembles champagne fountains for a child’s birthday party. Elsewhere there are kiddie pools, toy planes, ferns, white laundry bins stacked like improvised, endless columns, water pouring from showerheads, live fish, and live birds. These are makeshift tableaux assembled from home-and-garden store ready-mades.
Each of these fanciful constructions is an attempt to reflect the ways that people’s lives are actually shaped by water. They are collaborative sites of interaction, not the pristine and isolated lap pools glimpsed behind Hollywood hedges. Jaque did a great deal of research, interviewing eight groups of Angelenos to gain insight into how they use water and what it means to them. This is certainly a worthwhile topic for exploration, but the problem with the exhibition lies in the disconnect between this background and the artwork itself. Jaque has printed an accompanying broadside, which lists anecdotes from the interviews that are then mapped onto renderings of each work. This literal approach of linking a quotation to a specific element of each work confuses rather than clarifies the assemblages. A small exhibition catalog was also produced, chronicling in greater detail each interview and the theory behind the work. But it was not apparent how the interviews manifested themselves in the artworks. If a catalog is needed to explain the work, then the art isn’t speaking for itself. Laden with dense archi-speak, Jaque’s texts distance us from rather than invite us into the work.
This is not to say the exhibition does not succeed on some level. The works themselves are whimsical, messy, and at times elegant abstractions of domesticity and social interaction, somewhere between minimalist sculpture and a kid’s science experiment. The case studies that form the basis of Jaque’s project certainly have something to tell us about how we live in Los Angeles. Linking the objects too closely with the theory behind them, however, only serves to limit our experience of both.
Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation: Different Kinds of Water Pouring Into a Swimming Pool will be on view at REDCAT in Los Angeles through November 24, 2013.