Welcome to the third issue of ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology

This issue of ARID is inspired and supported by the Metabolic Studio, led by Los Angeles artist Lauren Bon. In November 2012, the Metabolic Studio launched a process designed to nurture public debate about our relationship to water, land, energy, and neighbors.  In anticipation of the November 2013 centenary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Studio engaged a wide constellation of organizations and institutions, charging each to critically reevaluate one hundred years of LA’s hydraulic history and to creatively reimagine the next one hundred.

Leading the way, Metabolic Studio has spent 2013 hosting 100 Conversations About Water up and down the length of the aqueduct, from the northern Owens Valley to downtown Los Angeles; designing a giant water wheel, sixty feet in diameter, for the banks of the LA River; and planning an Aqueduct birthday party like no other. In November 2013, Metabolic Studio will stage “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” a “performative parade traversing 240 miles of pipelines and canals passing through three counties and nearly 50 communities along the way.”

Joining their own artistic practice to a larger public conversation, the Studio has provided funding, forums and focus to a host of organizations large and small; from esteemed libraries such as the Huntington and Special Collections at Loyola Marymount, to small-scale environmental education initiatives, such as the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s First Bloom and the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation.  The Studio’s support extends to the sciences (UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences), policy (Climate Resolve), history (the Autry National Center of the American West and the Eastern California Museum), the humanities (Boom: A Journal of California), and the arts (ASU’s Desert Initiative for ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology).  The studio also provides support to design educators at Cal Poly Pomona (Aqueduct Futures), USC (Landscape Morphologies Lab), and the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University.

What role do the arts and design play in helping to shape an equitable and abundant water future in arid environments?  In the face of the epic social, legal, economic, and environmental struggles John Walton and Emily Green outline, what do filmmakers, photographers, and media artists have to contribute? This collection of voices makes a case for fabrication: yes, the re-fabrication of landscape itself, but also the re-fabrication of the dominant stories and doctrines that have constructed this worn territory and the cynicism and apathy that have crusted over it.  Film, fiction, folklore; myths, legends, and lost histories; gross distortions, excavated truths, and disrupted perceptions:  all form fertile ground for shaping new narratives that might give rise to new relationships—tangible and abstract; transactional and spatial; instrumental and symbolic—between pipe and people, economies and species, history and future.

This issue of ARID departs from earlier issues in that it offers up a heavier dose of pedagogical reflections. Cal Poly Pomona’s emphasis on evidence-based instruction methods is elaborated in contributions by Pomona’s Landscape Chair Lee-Anne Milburn, Aqueduct Futures leader Barry Lehrman and their colleagues.  USC’s Alex Robinson outlines hybrid methods for integrating effective technical solutions with qualitative place-making in the design studio. These are the voices of educators working to devise a new interface between student and landscape, engineering and place-making, public perception and accountable function.  While these pieces diverge from some of the visual emphasis of earlier ARID issues, they form an important part of the historical record, a view from the trenches as educators work to retool the design professions to meet the complex large-scale challenges of life in dry lands.

The editors—and many of the contributors—gratefully acknowledge Metabolic Studio and Lauren Bon for the generous spirit and critical ethos that this work requires.

To peruse our third issue, click here.