Lauren Bon's "Devices of Wonder"

March 31, 2015
– By Allison Agsten, curator, public engagement
This work is about saying we need to do a lot better very quickly with figuring out two things: how to retain our water and how to send the rest of it out to the sea cleaner. —Lauren Bon

Lauren Bon founded Metabolic Studio, the central hub for her art practice, in 2005 to create site-specific “devices of wonder” around issues of profound societal and environmental importance. From the earliest days of the studio, water in Los Angeles has been a subject of investigation. The work on view at the Hammer Museum, The Catch, is one component of Bon’s most monumental endeavor to date and an action connected both to the city and to water. Later this year she and her team will break ground on Bending the River Back into the City (2012–present), a three-part sculpture consisting of a below ground tunnel that diverts water from the Los Angeles River, a seventy-two-foot waterwheel that lifts the water to publicly accessible bio-remediation gardens on the roof of the Metabolic Studio building, and a distribution network of users voluntarily receiving the newly clean water. [1] In Bon’s vision, water that would otherwise bypass the city via the river (which is the catch for the rain) en route to the ocean (which is the catch for the river) will be captured for the benefit of Los Angeles’s arid landscape. [2]

The Catch

The Catch, developed with both the Optic and Sonic Divisions of Metabolic Studio, is Bon’s first public manifestation of Bending the River Back into the City. As experienced at the museum, the immersive sound piece is a model for a larger-scale installation that will be built at the Metabolic Studio in downtown Los Angeles. There the bass-like drone that vibrates the water in the Hammer’s installation will be created by the impact of the buckets of the waterwheel filling with water at the mouth of the tunnel. The ripple on the floor will emanate from light shining through the moving water, functioning as a type of water lens. 

Bending the River Back Into the City
The Catch follows Requiem for Water (2014), a sound piece engineered by the Sonic Division of Metabolic Studio, which transformed a silo on the end of the dry bed of Owens Lake into an enormous musical instrument that, through the echoes of its environs, plays itself. [3] Via Internet transmission, the sounds of the silo can be accessed live in Los Angeles (and beyond), reconnecting the city and an early source of its water. The audio components of both Requiem for Water and The Catch transform the scale of otherwise enormous structures and sweeping civic ideas into visceral, intimate experiences. They also represent an increasingly prominent part of Bon’s practice that shifts recognizable, functional objects into the abstract by way of sound. As light will be refracted though the water lens, so too does the sonic experience of The Catch refract the larger work, Bending the River Back into the City.


Epigraph: Lauren Bon, quoted in Zev Yaroslavsky, “Big Wheel Turning,” Zev’s Blog, August 8, 2012,

1. Carren Jao, “Yesterday’s Water System Back in Los Angeles,” River Notes,, August 29, 2012,

2. Timon Singh, Los Angeles to Install Old Fashioned “La Noria” Waterwheel on the Zanja Madre,” Inhabitat (blog), August 16, 2014,

3. See Art Assembly, “Beauty in the Bleak,”

Hammer Projects: Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio is on view through May 10, 2015.