Diane Pirie Cockerill
Sal Taylor Kydd
Opening Reception Saturday February 20, 6—9pm
Long before there was a California or even a United States, the Gabrieleño Indians had a community of over 45 villages dotting the San Fernando Valley and present day Glendale, and the LA River was their foundation, providing water and a diverse selection of food. In 1769, Spain's Gaspar de Portola "discovered" the river during his explorations.
It was the LA Basin's main source of drinking water until the Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1913, water from the Owens River being pumped over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and into the city. Although the river was fairly dry for most of the year, winter rains often brought with them dramatic and unpredictable flash floods well into the 1930s. After a devastating flood in 1938 (115 killed, 108,000 acres flooded), Angelenos began to demand flood control measures, leading to the creation of an ambitious project to both encase the riverbed in concrete to prevent it from changing course, and to regulate flow by building the Sepulveda Dam. The Army Corps of Engineers would spend the next 30 years essentially turning the river into a man-made storm drain, successfully saving lives and property but creating an ecological and visual horror.
As it exists today, the Los Angeles River runs over 50 miles (not including its tributaries) through the heart of a metropolitan area of 10 million people. It touches more neighborhoods and cities than any other singular aspect of the LA landscape. Yet in a place where water is precious, hardly any of those millions know its history, where it begins or ends, its current function or have ever put even their pinky toes in its water. In fact, the patchwork of governments and agencies that control the river have made it almost impossible to access without trespassing. No other American city has so completely turned its back on such a resource. Most see it (if they notice it at all) as a hideous scar on the landscape; a polluted dystopian highway through the heart of urban darkness almost devoid of human presence. Yet it is also a rich cultural canvas of striking visuals and unlimited potentials. Los Angeles could not have evolved in its current form without the river as culvert but it cannot fully thrive without at least its partial restoration; the designs and funding of which are being debated currently.
The images attached were taken of the river and within 100 yards of its "banks” from 2008 to the present. This represents a fascinating period for the river; having gone during that time from an ignored visual and environmental embarrassment to a newsworthy tabula rasa for artists, activists, developers and city planners. Also during this time, the EPA has declared the river navigable because of the efforts of some intrepid kayakers, allowing for protections under the Clean Water Act.
Throughout literature, rivers have been used as metaphors for journeys. The idea of a river encased in concrete adds new wrinkles and distortions to that concept. This submission represents the visions of seven very diverse artists and their journeys along the river; their interpretations informed by their personal histories and experiences; each drawn to the unique mélange of darkness, danger, neglect, hope and optimism that is the Los Angeles River.