Flow Control

For a century, the waters of the Los Angeles River have only flowed to two places: the intake infrastructure of LA’s Department of Water and Power and the Pacific Ocean—until this past fall, when artist Lauren Bon’s Bending the River officially claimed the first individual water rights on the fifty-one-mile waterway. Bon’s twenty-year quest to use river water to irrigate Los Angeles State Historic Park, where her 2005 Not a Cornfield sculpture led the reclamation of the former rail yard, grew from a simple waterwheel concept into a major civil engineering project: a 300-foot clay pipe requiring seventy-five permits across two dozen agencies. (The process, largely invisible, is documented in an interpretive center at the Lincoln Heights outpost of Bon’s Metabolic Studio.) The paperwork is itself an essential part of the piece, as Bending the River serves as both a working aqueduct and as scathing criticism of the bureaucratic forces that have disconnected Angelenos from their own water supply. During the tunneling, Hurricane Hilary barreled north through the watershed…

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