Laying Claim | Scott Polach

Drawing on the history of pluviculture—attempts to induce rain artificially—these works examine water in Southern California. Using the drawn-down Morena reservoir, once one of the largest in San Diego County, and a 1915 professional rainmaker’s flood at the site as an initial point of entry, I’m currently exploring water use as something functional, sublime and absurd. During the Southwest’s current drought, I’ve been saving water from the shower as it warms, transporting it 60 miles to the east, filling water balloons and performing various rainmaking activities in a dry reservoir.

In December 1915 San Diego was in it’s fifth year of drought, and city officials began to worry as their main reservoirs were nearly dry. They saw no harm in hiring the world’s most famous rainmaker, Charles Hatfield, for a fee of $10,000 to bring enough rain to fill nearby Morena Reservoir. Using his “chemical highball,” Charles and his brother went to work the first day of 1915, and on the 10th day the rains began. Over the next few weeks the rain barely stopped, and 30 inches of precipitation caused the reservoir to overflow. Subsequently, a wall of water pummeled the lower lands, destroying dams, bridges farms and settlements. Newspaper accounts number the dead between 20 and 65 people. Hatfield demanded his payment for the water delivered, and the City of San Diego refused to pay stating it was an “act of God.” Hatfield sued the city, and the case was left open on the books until Hatfield’s passing in 1958.

My current work uses this story, and various other historical techniques of attempts to produce rain, as a starting point for exploring the current discussions, policies and practices of water use in the Southwest. I’ve been creating multidisciplinary works that explore various facets and experiences of water. From playful confrontations with water balloons on parched earth, to works dealing with the politics of invasive aquatic species, I am attempting to offer new entry points into the Southwest’s conversation on one of the most severe droughts on record.

Make ’em Hum #081714 (2.5m montage of 7min)


Scott Polach (b. 1980,  Hinsdale IL) is an artist, curator and educator who earned a B.A. from Loyola University Chicago and a M.F.A. form the San Francisco Art Institute. His work investigates how perceptions of ecological systems relate to the policies and practices that inform collective conceptions of nature.

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2015, Practices

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