(In partnership with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribal Community)
Position Vector Salton Sea is a permanent site-specific land art installation that measures the disappearance of the Salton Sea on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation and leverages creative resources within the tribal community to formulate an artistic response to this emergent socioecological catastrophe.
Water re-allocation and climate change have caused the Salton Sea to shrink dramatically. By 2030, nearly 1/3 of this 340 square mile body of water—the largest in California—will have disappeared. As the sea’s waters retreat, vast expanses of playa are revealed. The dried lakebed—once habitat for millions of migratory birds—contains the residue of agricultural runoff and chemical pesticides and is a growing threat to human health throughout Southern California and Northern Mexico.
The Salton Sea – also known as the ancient Lake Cahuilla – has been the homeland of the Cahuilla people since time immemorial, and the future of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians (TMDCI) is inextricably linked to the future of the sea. The Cahuilla are the single largest owner of Salton Sea-adjacent land and many already suffer from severe respiratory ailments caused by the sea’s toxic remains. The State of California and US Army Corps of Engineers have made sporadic attempts to “save” the sea, but their engineering-based solutions treat the issue as a technical problem and fail to account for the Cahuilla’s longstanding ties to this cultural landscape. As such, this project looks to engage tribal lands, knowledge and creative resources to construct a monumental artwork in the landscape that measures the disappearance of this critically important body of water.
Position Vector Salton Sea is structured around a series of multi-day workshops. Project workshops are intended to be a form of cultural exchange, in which Cahuilla folkways are shared among the community. The active sharing of ideas promotes cultural vitality and emphasizes the central role that Cahuilla culture has in generating the ideas and outcomes of this project. The project began in June 2019 and will take approximately 24 months to complete. Each workshop will be led by an artist from within the tribal community and these artists will be supported by Hans Baumann, the lead project artist. Each workshop will also be assisted by paid youth apprentices, who will learn from and provide direct support to the project team.
Project workshops will culminate in a site-specific art installation located on tribal lands adjacent to the Salton Sea. Completed by Spring 2021, this intervention will measure the disappearance of the Salton Sea over the coming decades and mediate the community’s relationship to the Sea’s impending ecological collapse. As the project’s endpoint, the installation weaves together diverse, cross-cultural narratives to reclaim the Salton Sea as a site of cultural importance to the Cahuilla and mark the community’s resilience in an uncertain future. Not only does this project act as a case study for future art-based initiatives within other tribal communities, it illustrates how California’s Indigenous cultures are an intellectual resource for interdisciplinary and sustainable thinking in the 21st century.