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Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle Brings 500 Gallons of Water to Los Angeles

 

"Well 35°58'16" N 106°5'21" W," installation of well, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Well 35°58'16" N 106°5'21" W," installation of well, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.

Ask any Angeleno what the most prevalent problem facing her city is today and you're likely to hear the same answer: the drought. Every time we turn on the tap, flush a toilet, or water the plants we're reminded of the crisis. While the current drought has generated global media interest, viral videos, and even its own hashtag (#droughtshaming), the history of water in L.A. has always been contentious. As author Marc Reisner vividly described it in his book "Cadillac Desert," early political fights over water rights in Southern California were marked by "chicanery, subterfuge... and a strategy of lies."

Water is inextricably linked to the creation myth of Los Angeles. It has long inspired artists, from the vibrant paintings of swimming pools by David Hockney, to the neo-noir of "Chinatown," to the incisive essays of Joan Didion. A new exhibition at the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, "Well 35°58'16" N 106°5'21" W," (the coordinates are the gallery's location) draws on those same mythologies. The artist, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, has been addressing water in his work for nearly two decades.

A native of Madrid who grew up in Bogota and now resides in Chicago, Manglano-Ovalle creates technologically complex sculptures, photographs, and video installations of natural phenomena. He's worked with water in all its forms -- as vapor in clouds, solid in icebergs, and, of course, as a liquid.

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, "Well Prototype," 2015, stainless steel, aluminum and brass. Edition of 5. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, "Well Prototype," 2015, stainless steel, aluminum and brass. Edition of 5. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.

The work is typically a metaphor for cultural issues such as immigration and class privilege. The former MacArthur fellow typically collaborates with geologists, climatologists, and engineers to convert data into physical and visual forms. Embedded in the drive to harness nature is the desire to understand the forces (both artificial and natural) that shape our environment. "For me, the climate has been an issue to speak about the broader definition of climate -- the economic, political, and social climates," says Manglano-Ovalle.

For the latest exhibition, Manglano-Ovalle has transported nearly 500 gallons of water from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico to the gallery. The water comes from an installation of land art that also functions as a well, part of a project the artist did for SITE Sante Fe's biennial last year. The sculpture drilled into the ground to reach the aquifer below, and a hand pump allows spectators to manually withdraw water.

A non-functional well is also installed in the gallery, mirroring the one in New Mexico. Manglano-Ovalle has created seven similar wells around the world including one in Wisconsin and a proposed one in Ramallah. Manglano-Ovalle says the water is a gift, meant to be shared with visitors to the gallery. The "gift" couldn't come at a more auspicious time for Angelenos to explore the intersection of water politics and art.

"Well 35°58'16" N 106°5'21" W," installation of well, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Well 35°58'16" N 106°5'21" W," installation of well, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.

Locating the piece within the larger context of Manglano-Ovalle's body of work highlights the role of site specificity. The piece asks visitors to take into account geography, history, topography, community and land use. The installation also includes a performative aspect, asking visitors to pump the well in order to receive the water. "When [the piece] moves, it may look exactly the same. The site, the place, and the time opens up a more localized discussion of the issue," explains Manglano-Ovalle. "But it's all the wells together that look outward at issues of water access and water rights as a global issue. In other words, this drought is not owned by California."

Manglano-Ovalle is no stranger to the cryptic and complicated workings of Santa Monica's often-irrational water policies. An earlier proposal for a working "town well" artwork for Tongva Park faced political opposition and had to be scrapped. In its place, he created a sculpture, "Weather Field No. 1," comprised of 49 stainless steel poles arranged in a grid. Each pole supports a weather vane and an anemometer, a device used to measure wind speed.

"Well 35°58'16" N 106° 5' 2" W," installation view at SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Well 35°58'16" N 106° 5' 2" W," installation view at SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.

Manglano-Ovalle's work references the output of a generation of land artists before him. He cites both Robert Barry's "Inert Gas" series and Water de Maria's "Vertical Kilometer" as influences on this exhibition. "I'm indebted to earthworks from the '70s," he says. Not only is Manglano-Ovalle reconsidering the works of the preceding generation but also slyly citing Duchamp's infamous urinal sculpture, "Fountain," which asked viewers to reexamine art as an intellectual exercise rather than a purely aesthetic one.

The work asks viewers to reconsider the reliability of our water access, and the ways modern infrastructure disconnects us from resources. The simple gesture of pumping our own water forces us to bridge that divide. "We take for granted that when we hit a switch the light will turn on. When we turn the tap, water will come out," says Manglano-Ovalle. "But there's something about using a well that makes you think about the source."

 

 

 

Installation of the pump handle. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Installation of the pump handle. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Drilling concrete in the gallery for the installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W," 2015, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Drilling concrete in the gallery for the installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W," 2015, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Water arrives at Christopher Grimes Gallery for the installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W." | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Water arrives at Christopher Grimes Gallery for the installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W." | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
In-progress installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W," 2015, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
In-progress installation of "Well 34°01'03" N 118°29'12" W," 2015, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Weather Field No. 1," installation view, Tongva Park, Santa Monica, California, 2013. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Weather Field No. 1," installation view, Tongva Park, Santa Monica, California, 2013. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
&quot;A Single Iceberg,&quot; 2007-2015. 24 archival pigment prints<br /> 11-3/4 x 17-3/4 x 3/4 inches, each; 53 x 116 inches, overall, 30 x 45 x 1.9 cm, each; 135 x 295 cm, overall edition of 5.
"A Single Iceberg," 2007-2015. 24 archival pigment prints 11-3/4 x 17-3/4 x 3/4 inches, each; 53 x 116 inches, overall, 30 x 45 x 1.9 cm, each; 135 x 295 cm, overall edition of 5.

 

&quot;Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With,&quot; 2009, mixed media, 25 x 25 feet, 7.62 x 7.62 meters. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With," 2009, mixed media, 25 x 25 feet, 7.62 x 7.62 meters. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
&quot;The Hut - Doppelgänger,&quot; installation view at Museo Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, 2015. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
"The Hut - Doppelgänger," installation view at Museo Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, 2015. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Installation view, &quot;A Lived Practice,&quot; 2014, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
Installation view, "A Lived Practice," 2014, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, &quot;Phantom Truck,&quot; 2006.
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, "Phantom Truck," 2006.

 

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