Pitzer College Art Galleries

5 Distillations (Salton Sea)

5 Distillations (Salton Sea) examines the political frameworks and biophysical processes that created - and now imperil - the largest body of water in the State of California. Drawing from empirical observation, archival research, and the artist’s long-term collaboration with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, this project reflects upon the inevitable collapse of a vast inland sea that has sustained the indigenous people of this region since time immemorial.

At nearly 300 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea is a terrain of perpetual accumulation. Its terminal confines are a microcosm of our planetary future; it is a landscape of hybrid confusion in which intense ecological dysfunction is counteracted by the stubborn vitality of the biosphere. Here, rare birds nest among some of the last wetlands in the American West, and surf, sand and wind pulverize abandoned household waste into habitat. The sea’s hypersaline waters pulse with primitive life just as its shores are covered in the remains of one hundred million fish it can no longer sustain. This is not Nature as we conceive it, and so the Sea’s immense capacity for life is problematized and cast as dysfunctional. Yet this unbalanced ecosystem has value; it is not merely a domain of crisis. 5 Distillations (Salton Sea) presents an alternative narrative for this place: a continuum of material conditions with no precise origin, no definitive end and no moral connotations.

Photographs by Ruben Diaz and Hans Baumann

©2010-2022 Hans Baumann