#environment #conservation #access #resources #water #public art #civic art #biennials
Los Angeles is a metropolis built on a delusion: that engineering can overcome a basic lack of sufficient resources to meet the popular need. Five years into a severe drought, one would think conservation would be on everyone’s mind, but the clean cars and green lawns all around town suggest otherwise. To increase discussion of water and its scarcity, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs developed CURRENT LA: Water, LA’s first public-art biennial. Four LA-based curators invited thirteen local and international artists to create temporary public artworks, on view for one month in the summer at locations dispersed across the city’s fifteen council districts. Like the water from which it draws its central metaphor, CURRENT LA was an example of the tension between abundance and scarcity.
Water and art are both fraught with questions about equitable access to resources. DCA General Manager Danielle Brazell likened the CURRENT LA: Water concept to the flow of water: at times a trickle, at other times a gushing flow. This poetic analogy overlooks the structural inequality that determines water usage in drought. Rain may fall everywhere, but once water meets the ground, access to it is not evenly distributed. Conservation is encouraged through punitive pricing, which has the effect of enabling wealthy scofflaws while asking the poor to do more with less. LA’s aquifers, which represent the city’s water supply for future generations, have already been severely compromised by unregulated industrial activity. Once again, those who can pay are rewarded with abundance now; those who cannot have to plan for a future without resources. Discussions around revitalizing the long-suffering LA River often come up against similar concerns, as ecological renewal seems to come about only when property values reach a point of unaffordability for local communities. The fact that CURRENT LA was underwritten by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a private foundation whose Public Art Challenge seeks to “celebrate creativity, enhance urban identity, encourage public–private partnerships, and drive economic development,” only increases the anxiety around fair and equitable distribution of resources.