The Thirst is Real: a psychogeographic tour of water politics

Paloma Powers is a creative agency developing innovative arts-driven solutions for a post-everything world.

Last week, Paloma Powers hosted the latest NonSalon in Los Angeles. Entitled “The Thirst is Real”, the evening explored cities, water, and new ways of visualizing globalization with special guests Sensorium Works. Guests gathered in the studio of Ring the Alarm (a music culture company) and via the all-seeing eye of the drone, traveled to Beijing, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and California’s own Central Valley in a psychogeographic tour of water politics and urban development. The screening was followed by conversation, VR demo’s, and thematic cocktails (the hazardously strong “L.A. Storm Drain”, see recipe below).

Sensorium Works is the creative studio of Matthew Niederhauser and John Fitzgerald, who produce various projects at the intersection of art, documentary and tech, and have a particular focus on emerging global megacities. They began the evening with a preview of Kapital Creation, their forthcoming feature-length documentary about China’s unprecedented urbanization project, greatly influenced by Matthew’s long involvement with the independent art and music scene in Beijing. Most recently, Sensorium has been working with MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism to document emerging global megacities like Mumbai, Sao Paolo, and Beijing, through new media formats like drone and 360 degree/VR filmmaking. They shared eye-popping drone surveys of each case-study city, while describing the unique hydrological challenges faced in each locale, as well as the sometimes surprising connections between far-flung geographies — i.e., Sao Paulo being shaped by Brazil’s current political problems, which are tied to the slowing of China’s economic growth.

The slow, aerial flyover of each city gave a hypnotic sensation only occasionally interrupted by a hawk wheeling up toward the lens, or a drone leg poking into view as it turned. The possibilities and pitfalls of this new POV — the so-called “drone sublime” — was explored further in the discussion, kicked off by Ken Ehrlich, a Los Angeles-based artist, writer and researcher (currently teaching at CalArts and U.C. Riverside).

The final sequence of footage, taken recently in California’s Central Valley and the Inland Empire (just due east of the event location), touched on California’s catastrophic drought and how visualizations are deceiving. Despite the recent, and very lucky, El Niño storms that have hit California, according to Matthew: “people are getting attached to the fact that the visible markers, the lakes, the reservoirs, have gotten back up to their normal historical levels” — while the invisible groundwater is still severely depleted. The lesson, perhaps, through all of Sensorium Works practice, is not to rely on either the naked eye or the drone, but to triangulate various tools and perspectives into a new form of documentary for a quickly changing landscape.

VR Station with humidifier and cocktails

Recipe: L.A. Storm Drain

  • 2 cups ginger beer
  • 1 cup dark rum
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • Lime wedges

Combine in pitcher, stir, and serve over ice (from a Boyle Heights liquor store) in cups.

Pitchers of the “L.A. Storm Drain” cocktail, and guests in front of drone wallpaper

NonSalon is a new event series pairing artists and visionaries across disciplines to explore diverse contemporary topics — from design to ecology, food to comedy through conversation, screenings, workshops, dinners, and other experimental formats. NonSalon arose from Paloma’s ability to matchmake talent across industries and forecast emergent cultural trends and forces.

Stay tuned for the next NonSalon via our newsletter and Facebook, and drop us a line to submit an idea, artist, or intriguing venue you’d like to activate:

Ciao for now,

xx Paloma