The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Fountains of Owens Lake

Exhibit at CLUI Swansea

Owens Lake

One of dozens of “fountains” captured in sound and video by the CLUI over the last year, mostly by CLUI corps member Cindy Hooper, for the exhibit Fountains of Owens Lake, shown at the Center’s exhibit space on the shore of the lake that was dried up by the Los Angeles Aqueduct over a century ago. CLUI photo

THE FOUNTAINS OF OWENS LAKE is the latest presentation at our exhibit hall in the dunes of Swansea. The video/audio display depicts selections from the vast and curious array of water spouts found on the engineered lakebed, ranging in form from battered and stingy sprinkler heads to broad belching pipes. In the context of this parched terminal lake—dried up when its waters were piped to Los Angeles, and then re-engineered for dust-control by LA’s Department of Water and Power—these devices appear (and sound) like provocative celebrations of this most precious terrestrial fluid.
Though remote from the city, Owens Lake can be considered an urban space, as it is intrinsically linked to Los Angeles, like a displaced city park. In some ways, the Owens Lake lakebed is like the Tuileries, the grand central park of Paris. Both are constructed spaces, open for the public to enjoy, and adjacent to the river that created a great city at the center of an empire of its time. Though not built as a palace garden by a Medici, Owens Lake was built by the Department of Water and Power, the institutional monarch that created Los Angeles.

Like the Tuileries, though less symmetrical, Owens Lake is full of designed geometries, linear paths lined with artifacts and cultural displays, punctuated by ponds and fountains, and sculptural forms that tell the story of the city, its battles with nature, and allegories told by river gods.

Instead of the Grand Allée, we have the Brady Highway. Instead of the Jeu de Paume, we have the DWP Operations Center. Instead of the Musée de l’Orangerie, we have the CLUI Exhibit Hall, which, instead of housing splotchy pond grasses and water lilies depicted impressionistically by Claude Monet, recently showed portraits of colorful scums, bacterial mats, and dendritic microcosmic flows, and now celebrates the fountains of Owens Lake. ♦

CLUI photo

Left, View of the Tuileries Gardens of Paris. Engraving by Adam Perelle. Right, Fountains lined up in geometric patterns and rows at Owens Lake. CLUI photo

CLUI photo

Left, The Nile, by Lorenzo Ottoni, one of several river sculptures at the Tuileries Gardens. Photo by Thesupermat/Wikipedia. Right, Recumbent water pipes at Owens Lake. CLUI photo

CLUI photo

Left, Inside the Orangerie, a display hall at the Tuileries, is an immersive exhibit of Monet’s Water Lilies. Photo by Brady Brenot/ Wikipedia. Right, Inside CLUI Swansea is a dedicated space for immersive watery viewing. CLUI photo