Arid environments exist in a delicate balance. Limited water and simplified ecosystems that respond quickly and disastrously to small changes puts these sensitive environments at the extreme edge of sustainability. In arid environments, as on our freeways, one wrong turn can drive one weeks, months or years away from a desired destination, especially when these wrong turns occur in the realm of policy and planning. This second issue, that we have informally called the ‘anti-utopia’ issue, is a collection of articles and works addressing some of our system’s breakdowns.
For instance, Marina Zurkow’s critical design project, Gila 2.0 looks at the conflicts between ranchers and the endangered apex species, the Mexican Grey Wolf, by creating absurd solutions that serve to highlight prevailing and deeply ingrained metaphorical misunderstandings. The humor present in her work attempts to open a dialogue between various competing interests.
The omnipresent utopian architectural imaginaries in the American Southwest are ironically seen breaking down in conversation with architectural designer John R. Donalds on the site of Paolo Soleri’s opus, Arcosanti.
Siobhan Arnold’s essay concerning her father’s extensive photographic desert work in remote environments continues with this theme. Cotten conducted much of his photographic practice in hinterland locations found throughout the arid Southwest where he explored and documented remnants of clandestine military operations and ‘gearhead’ subcultures found at the Bonneville Salt Flats along the Nevada/Utah border. Cotton’s site-specific experiments and collaborative installations with colleagues and students, known as Desert Test Sites—laid a conceptual framework for the HDTS developed by his former student, Andrea Zittel.
Water, or the lack of, appears again and again throughout this issue. Several comprehensive photographic projects focusing on regional water issues are included. Sant Khalsa’s installation project, Western Waters documents the ubiquitous water purifying stations found in strip malls throughout the southwestern United States. Catherine Ann Somerville Venart discusses innovative water resource management practices in the Atacama Desert region of northern Chile.
This focus on water will be continued in depth in our upcoming Fall 2013 issue that will investigate and explore the controversial and often contentious social, political and environmental history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct water conveyance system, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. ARID will post in the coming months further information on this commissioned issue. We hope you enjoy our second offering.