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KR PIPKIN - 24 Hour Water
October 6th - 13th, 2017





Photo Credit: Erin Mallea

24 Hour Water

IMPERIAL VALLEY, CA - 1900

At the turn of the 20th century, the California Development Company was tasked with turning the Salton Sink - a desert-dry lake bed - into arable farmland. After construction of irrigation canals, the company saw some success; the valley became fertile, allowing farmers to grow crops.

1905 was an El Nino year, however, with unprecedented amounts of rainfall - the Colorado river swelled beyond its banks, breaking a levee dividing the river from these new canals. Subsequently, the entire flow of the Colorado was rerouted into the Salton Sink for some 18 months, while engineers desperately attempted to dam the gap. This was the first year ever recorded where the Colorado River did not flow to the ocean- although it now, even with the repaired canal, rarely reaches the Gulf of California. One more river-victim of agriculture.

At the new Salton Sea, the people of California followed their new ocean; its shores became a series of resort towns, farms, military bases, fishing operations, and beach-side luxury condos. Today these have become stranded by a retreating saline edge; the water, replenished only by fertilizer-heavy agricultural runoff, is evaporating, concentrating the salt at a rate of 3% per year.

One of these chemical culprits - Alum (a common name for a group of aluminum salts) - has another use in water purification, where it is generally applied to homes after disastrous flooding. While Alum is a mild skin irritant itself, it binds with other, far more toxic materials and then precipitates into crystal, allowing for the easier removal. It is currently being deployed in Houston, Florida, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and likely every other hurricane-touched region of 2017.

Water settles. It has an unbroken surface. Water, covering place, becomes an agent of disassociation. This-highway, or that-strip-mall; the interchange I've taken hundreds of times; where I ordered coffee once; the place I like to walk; each disappears under a perfectly flat layer.

Water is, in some ways, a "solved problem" in digital spaces. Which is not to say it is an easy thing to emulate in truth - but if you're looking for a representation of water, you can download the model, the shader, and the behavior; they're often free. After all, what is simpler to construct than a flat plane, animated periodically by the movement of waves, catching the light.

It is fake, of course; the spirit of water has been culled from these surfaces that as often intersect with the earth as to curl to fill it. They have no logic of evaporation, no ability to erode the landscape, and they almost never have a wrecking force. Digital water does not break a levee. Digital water does not pull apart 3d models. Digital water does not pick up environmental toxins. Digital water does not inundate a region while letting another burn.

Digital water is a constant. It is stable; a flat plane, catching the light. It is a moat or a stream, a barrier, a border at the end of the world. It is a repeating animation, a tile, an argument. It is an abstraction, an argument, or an illusion.

Water levels, in video games, have an uncanny calm. There is a magic of breaking a boundary to them, of being inside of a thing. The objects are stained blue, the characters move slowly. They were designed for beauty before danger; but, just like real water, digital water does drown.

Still; the objects of 24 Hour Water are not in danger. They are not breaking, sinking, or flooding. The plane rises around them, buries them, intersects with them, and moves through them. Each exists simultaneously with the idea of water, taking advantage of a system of logic where two objects can perfectly overlap without displacing each other, destroying each other, or becoming each other. Instead, they touch each other completely - occupying the same points. Each moment of intersection as distant and delicate as the knowledge of a waterline, which was once - long ago - far above our heads.