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Hammer Projects: Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio

Mar 7–May 10, 2015 This is a past exhibition

Hammer Projects: Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio will feature an immersive sonic work, The Catch, 2015. For this project, Bon and the Metabolic Studio’s Sonics and Optics Divisions will imbue the gallery with deep aural impressions, triggering both a physical sensation in viewers and a visual response as shadow waves sweep across the gallery floor, a cascading reflection of the water lens suspended above visitors’ heads. This exhibition uses sound imprints based on Bon’s water wheel, LA Noria, part of a massive project called Bending the River Back Into the City, 2012-present, that is expected to break ground in 2015 adjacent to the LA river, Downtown, and coincides with the Hammer’s year of water programming. 

Hammer Projects: Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio is organized by Allison Agsten, curator, Public Engagement with January Parkos Arnall, curatorial assistant, Public Engagement.


Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio take art practice outside of the boundaries of the (art) system and to open it up to multiple possibilities bringing creativity into all areas of life. “Artists Need To Create On The Same Scale That Society Has The Capacity To Destroy.”

The Metabolic Studio practices on physical and social brownfields—places that are incapable of supporting life. Since 2005, the Metabolic Studio has focused on land and water use in the city of Los Angeles and by extension in the Intermountain West. Through working with local, state and federal agencies we often encounter systemic aversion to innovation.

At the heart of the Metabolic Studio’s practice are “devices of wonder.” These devices have the capacity to shift stagnation inherent in any given system and thereby have a transformative effect by creating momentum. All the actions happened in the public realm and were not supported by outside agencies. They were constructed as ephemeral interventions in social space. The exception to that is Bending the River Back into the City, which will be the only permanent work in the "Metabolic Cycle."


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 belowground 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, 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. 

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 is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy, Hope Warschaw and John Law, and Maurice Marciano. 

Additional support is provided by Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley, the Decade Fund, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund. 

The Hammer Museum's Public Engagement program is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

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