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River Rail


Lauren Bon and The Metabolic Studio, One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, November 2013. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the LA Aqueduct one hundred mules walked the 240 miles of ditches, pipes and channels that move water from the snow melt of the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles. Mules were the labor force that helped realize the gravity fed system.

The River Rail is a collective declaration of our interdependence—a hive mind focused on our rights and responsibilities to water that pushes beyond the outmoded boundaries of city, state and country to an intercontinental engagement. We reflect on the realities of colonized lands—the militating and catastrophic impact that the material gain of the few has upon us all. We call for us to work together to remediate what we share, and move beyond crisis.

Metabolic Studio’s mission statement is a quote by Sherrie Rabinowitz that powerfully claims a role and a place for artists in society,

Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale
as Society Has the Capacity to Destroy

Every action that my studio has undertaken since the traumatic aftermath of 9/11 has been a transparent endeavor to counter-argue against what I have seen as the oversights of our civic infrastructures. My studio practice is dedicated to metabolic action and survival through movement together, at a scale that can match the destruction inflicted upon us, and our environmental resources.

The first public demonstration of my aims for Metabolic Studio was Not A Cornfield (2005 – 2006), which transformed the abandoned rail yard in Downtown Los Angeles (now the Los Angeles State Historic Park) into a thirty-two acre cornfield for one agricultural cycle. It began almost a decade of remediation of this iconic and neglected site, the last remaining undeveloped land of the native Tongva and Gabrielino people. Not A Cornfield responded to the wider struggle of local people to create a safe place to recreate and have a decent urban life in the face of real-estate trauma and social unrest. It acknowledged the friction between social justice and access to water that challenges communities and civic agencies in this area of the city. It fulfilled a civic need to envision better ideas for life in compromised urban sites, and acted as a proposal for how we, as artists, shift the ways of thinking that bring us to our present moment.

This coming spring at Metabolic Studio we will break ground on Bending the River Back Into the City, a project that reconnects the floodplain that the Tongva tribe named “Yaangna” with its water source from the Eastern Sierra. The concrete-sealed basin of the L.A. River within the city protects valuable real estate from the ancient route of the L.A. River and from its swelling and flooding. It also disconnects us physically and spiritually from the shared, life-giving resource of our water. It is within this context that Bending the River Back Into the City will make its actual and symbolic bend. Construction begins with the piercing of two holes in the cement jacket of the River just north of Metabolic Studio. One hole and tunnel will “bend” the river westwards and draw a small percentage of dry-weather flow from the river’s basin, bringing it into a newly-formed wetland and treatment system for cleaning before its distribution to local public parks. Another tunnel will pierce the sealed river basin further south, returning unused river water that continues its journey to the port of Long Beach. 

On a bureaucratic level, Bending the River Back Into the City is made possible by securing more than sixty interconnected permits and approvals from twenty-three federal, state, regional, county, and city agencies. The linchpin agreement is the Water Right that was awarded to me by the State Water Resources Board in March 2014. I interpret my Water Right as a water responsibility that I share with the public and with which I demonstrate the tenet of this right as a public service. Under the Water Right agreement, Bending the River’s distribution of treated Los Angeles River water in the state and city park systems calls for the acknowledgement of the shared stewardship of our water through the establishment of best practices in water management, including the prevention of toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides on the property, and avoiding soil irrigation during the heat of the day.

I believe that access to water is a right for all living things, and that Bending the River Back will activate and transform a water right into a water responsibility. As Manuel Castell’s noted, it has the potential to show that Another City is Possible.


Installation of the Ed Reyes Special Project in Archiving, 2014. Ed Reyes is a former Los Angeles District One Councilman who worked to improve Downtown Los Angeles social infrastructure and the sustainability of the Los Angeles River during two decades. In 2014, Lauren Bon provided the space and support for Reyes to organize his archive ahead of its acquisition by the UCLA Library Special Collections. Reyes’ archive are shown here installed at Metabolic Studio’ Barn – the former home and studio in L.A. of architect A. Quincy Jones. The Ed Reyes Special Project in Archiving has extended and fed into Metabolic Studio’s ongoing Bending the River Back into the City.


“We hereby proclaim an independent nation, a nation formed to support the human species, the pollinators, the remaining live equine, the fish, and soaring birds. We name our new country Rose.” (Map of Rose) We who aspire for the nation that protects living things find it difficult to escape the irresponsible actions that have rendered vast territories of our continents unusable. Rose is a coalition of watersheds, it includes the Colorado River watershed, the Columbia River watershed, the Great Basin, the Gulf of Mexico seaboard, the Pacific Ocean seaboard, the Rio Grande, the Caribbean Seaboard, the Orinoco River Basin, the Magdalena River Basin, Amazon River Basin and La Plata Basin.


Lauren Bon, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, 2017. Neon, 6 x 14 1/2 feet. This sign illuminates a quote by Sherrie Rabinowitz which connects deeply to the formation of the Metabolic Studio. Photo: Zack Garlitos.



Lauren Bon

Lauren Bon is a graduate of Princeton University and MIT. Bon holds degrees in architecture, and the history and theory of art. She received her early training in the studios of Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi. In 2005, Lauren Bon created Metabolic Studio. The actions generated by Metabolic Studio are global in focus and reach: developing new tools for urban living and city planning; inventing novel social practices for political and environmental justice; and directing art practice to engage on the same scale as society’s capacity to destroy.


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