(1) What is MOISTURE?

MOISTURE is an experimental research project undertaken by a Los Angeles-based artist collective. Focused on developing location-sensitive structures for the collection, retention, and use/re-use of water in the Mojave Desert, the collective are invested in creating microclimates within one of the driest desert regions on the planet.

Since the winter of 2002, the evolving project has developed into an annual research program centered on Harper Dry Lake, near Hinkley, California. The current phase of the program involves the design and construction of functional sculptural objects, installed in relation to the ground, and the hydrologic matrix of the region. All individual components and larger collaborative projects are to be seen as puzzle-pieces aiding in the long-range understanding of this unique closed-basin.

The Harper Basin is a distinct drainage basin within the Mojave Desert, and as an exhausted agricultural area, with a large dry lake at its bottom, its history and present condition is emblematic of modern human development in desert regions. The MOISTURE collective intend to establish a prolonged presence in this Harper Basin, working both with and against the region’s changing water cycles.

 

(2) What were the initial goals and how did the resulting project reflect them?

The initial plan was to develop location-sensitive structures for the collection, retention, and use/reuse of water in the Mojave Desert at the CLUI DRS. We later considered experimentation with the creation of microclimates. All activities to be carried out within one of the driest desert regions on the planet.

In the second phase of the project, we decided to step things up a notch by obtaining our own property to use exclusively for MOISTURE activities. As a group, we’ve extensively researched the physical nuances of our 15-acre site, in an effort to better understand it as an organism, while continually relating our activities to the entire Harper Basin. The framework of the MOISTURE project gives us the opportunity to probe the micro-features of the “site” and to keep these features in constant comparison with the larger regional scope.

Our activities in MOISTURE (phase one) were significantly underdeveloped and we’ve done our best to sidestep the mistakes and answer the questions raised during that part of the process.

The first phase of the MOISTURE program required only 2 weeks of site work, and this second phase has required over 6 months. We are beginning to see the inadequacies of our system bettered over time, as we acknowledge the long road of site maintenance still ahead. Our electronic nervous system, the wireless technologies applied, and our partnership with DriWater and RainBird are all aspects of the project that we never foresaw when we started things in 2002. Our vision for the project continues to expand as time passes, and our place in the region is consistently confirmed by the surprising functionality of our small marks on the earth’s surface. 

We are pretty much exploring the same terrain as we were in MOISTURE phase one, but since that time, our knowledge has increased and our tactics have become more precise. We still perceive ourselves as artist/researchers engaged in an aesthetic/scientific inquiry through the tools of multiple disciplines. And as a group we continue to craft a dynamic hybrid of scientific theses and aesthetic experience.

(4) What has happened since Phase One and Two of MOISTURE? Did the individual components function as planned? What was learned over the course of the last year?

In the many months after implementing the first phase, we were able to observe the works we constructed on the grounds of the CLUI Desert Research Station property. Many of the components had not functioned as we had planned, and some of our initial ideas were almost too outlandish considering the location. For example, we learned that the region’s climate does not allow for dew collecting, so we have refocused on water harvesting.

Having learned a great deal about not only the behaviors and interactions between land and water, but also of the behaviors and interactions of people and land and water in the Harper Basin, part of our strategic rethinking for MOISTURE Phase II has included an exhaustive land search. We decided to move off of the grounds of the CLUI Desert Research Station and further into the Harper Basin, enabling us to get a better sense of the region by understanding how water flows through it. The initial plan was to work on land that we had no permission to use. But working on the desert frontier, and leaving equipment unattended on owned property is risky enough ... attempting to do so on other’s property would have posed too high a vulnerability to interruption of our work or damage to our test equipment.

The Harper Basin has revealed itself as a mysterious place. It’s certainly not a place that time has forgotten, but it is, rather, a place littered with traces of human use. It’s a place not easily described, but more easily felt.

As we move into the ‘maintenance phase’ of MOISTURE 2, we continue to learn about the functionality and design of our various projects. Owning our own property has provided us with the illusion of control, but we realize the fragility of our actions on the site. We are not creating monuments, but conducting experiments within a harsh land.

Only time will grant us the new perspectives that continue to be revealed and we will plan our next movements accordingly.

(5) Can you sum up exactly
what MOISTURE is?

Fortunately, none of us involved with MOISTURE want to do just that. We do not see MOISTURE as a project that can be neatly tied up with a bow and talked about in sound bites. The curator is often the one who imposes his vision on a group of artists, corralling them together so their works justify his or her curatorial stance. MOISTURE started with an idea from two persons, but it has evolved and taken its own form. There is no curator for this project. Those involved with MOISTURE are artist/researchers and the entire project itself is seen, by the participants, as art. The individual components (i.e. the artist’s experimental works) are only one of the many crucial elements needed to allow MOISTURE to succeed, at least in our eyes. The collective involvement, the meetings, the discussions, the disagreements, and the failed experiments are all needed to make this project worthwhile.

MOISTURE has grown, from being a project concerned with understanding water’s elusive path in a desert environment, into a project directly engaged with a specific region within the Mojave Desert and the manner in which we can interact with it as humans, artists, and citizens.

MOISTURE is a long-range project and we are committed to the completion and maintenance of all of its related projects. We are builders in an arid land, constructing things that 'hopefully' will interact with the hydrologic cycle. We are also growing trees and shrubs that should promote small-scale climatic change. All of our other peripheral concerns/interests (like the impact of human population, or aquifer replenishment technology, for example) are a vital part of our discussions, but are not the “point” of our work. MOISTURE, as a project, sends out many signals to those who wish to listen.

 

 

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(3) How did the MOISTURE collective come together?

MOISTURE was instigated by the curiosity of two individuals and has since become a catalyst for drawing like-minded souls. It has evolved and grown organically through the interactions between all of the participants, past and present.

Living in the world’s second largest desert city has deeply affected all involved. We were drawn together with a common interest. Translating our understanding of Los Angeles’s water predicament, we moved to work further inland, deep into the Mojave Desert. There our concerns were the same, but the human presence was downplayed. We found ourselves in a new semi-rural environment. Not a pristine one at all, but one that needed to be looked at carefully as well as contextually.

With the worst drought in 500 years upon us, our activities on our small 15 acres of land have become even more relevant. The cities we call home, and the desert where we work become ultimately more connected. In our cities we are fooled by the illusion of plenty. Water comes directly from the tap, and few question its source. In the Mojave we directly experience the absence of water, and we plan for its arrival by altering the land.

We are still working together after 2 years even though our specific projects have taken different paths. And our understanding of water’s function in the Mojave has evolved with each year that passes.