Hans Baumann

Hans Baumann: 5 Distillations (Salton Sea)

In 2017, Hans Baumann initiated a long-term artistic collaboration with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians to measure the disappearance of the Salton Sea from their sovereign tribal lands in the Coachella Valley. Although it is the largest body of water in California, the Salton Sea scarcely registers in the public consciousness and, when it does, it is as a miasmatic blight. By 2030, one-third of the Sea will have disappeared, leaving behind vast expanses of dusty playa contaminated by agricultural runoff and industrial effluents. These low-lying desert lands have been the homeland of the Cahuilla since time immemorial, and the future of the tribal community is inextricably linked to the future of this landscape. This collaboration is an attempt to reflect upon the complex socio-ecological dynamics responsible for the Sea’s existence and to engage with—but not intervene upon—the entropic processes of the Sea’s decline.

5 Distillations (Salton Sea) is a meditation upon time spent in these environs and an attempt to reframe the trajectory of the Sea’s collapse. At nearly 300 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea is a terrain of perpetual accumulation, its topographical confines 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 abandoned household appliances, and innumerable microorganisms prosper in nutrient-rich drainage canals.Stretches of shoreline are covered with the skeletal remains of tilapia from Mozambique, and verdant orchards foreground brown desert mountains. To the Western mind, these moments are unsettling because they are so comprehensively anthropogenic. This is not Nature as we conceive it, and so the Sea’s immense capacity for life is problematized and cast as dysfunctional. Yet the unbalanced ecosystem of the Salton Sea has value;it is not merely a domain of crisis. 5 Distillations (Salton Sea) presents an alternative narrative for this place: a continuum of cultural and physiographic systems with no precise origin, no definitive end and no moral connotations.


Last modified by Laurie Babcock, on December 18, 2019.