Reyner Banham, Olafur Eliasson and the Landscape of Los Angeles: Toward a Creative Relocation of the Oikos of Political


ABSTRACT Since its conception, ecology has been the study of a unified architecture (or oikos) of nature, and its independence from society. Yet the metaphor of a “natural” habitat, which suggests a division between the natural (bios) and the social (polis), becomes unwieldy when appropriated by Political Ecology in its attempt to enfold and reanimate the agency of human, nonhuman and technological actors. In productively relocating the conceptual basis of ecological thinking, political ecologists might benefit from dialogue with artists and art critics, who dramatize and reimagine agency in specific geographies. In particular, I propose that Reyner Banham’s “Los Angeles: Architecture of Four Ecologies” and Olafur Eliasson’s L.A.based intervention “Green River” are two creative gestures that disperse, extend and democratize agency in the urban landscape. As a means for unveiling perspectives and generating questions, art may have a role in crafting a more fluid and liberal oikos for Political Ecology.


When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi reverberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters – when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up?

~ Reyner Banham1 I. Introduction Ecology is the science of dwelling. It is the delicate study of the habitat, the “whole science of the relations of the organisms to the environment including, in the broad sense, all the conditions of existence.”2 In its original conception by Ernst Haeckel, the science of ecology encompassed the systems and relations of the natural, nonhuman world. However, in recent decades, the project of ecology was appropriated by numerous other academic disciplines. Notably, experiments in cultural ecology and political economy gave rise to the field of Political Ecology: an academic discipline crafted to enfold not only nonhumans and “natural” systems but also societies, things, technologies and inorganic processes. Yet in appropriating the basic tenets of ecology for its own academic practice, Political Ecology did not rid the term of its history, or its discursive assumptions and affiliations.3 Numerous scholars, among them Bruno Latour, Sarah Whatmore and Jane Bennett, have placed pressure on the notion of ecology, claiming that it can be made more democratic, more secular and therefore productive for the social sciences and for Political Ecology in particular.456 It is to the contemporary conception of ecology that I

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Banham, Reyner, “A Home Is not a House,” illustrated by François Dallegret, Art in America (1965): 70. Haeckel, Ernst. Generelle Morphologie Der Organismen (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1866), pp.286-87. 3 By “discursive assumptions” I mean the framework for ecology that was designed by scientists like Haeckel which located ecological study firmly in the realm of the nonhuman. 4 In, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy, Bruno Latour argues that even in the contemporary field of Political Ecology, academic study occurs as if there existed one “mono-natural” entity holding


things and technologies. their creative work is explicitly concerned with the interplay among humans. their work is intimately related: Reyner Banham’s criticism of urban design. Signs of Life: Bio-Art and Beyond by the artist and theorist Eduardo Kac. theorized and worked in the landscape of Los Angeles. 5 In her work. as he argues that ecology still takes as given an external world of Nature that is accessed only by elite scientists and experts. and in the same series of political and ecological considerations. While it would be possible. numerous “multicultural” worlds. nonhumans. Jane Bennett argues for a new vital materialism – one in which agency was understood as more democratically dispersed among humans and nonhumans. social and material. not to criticize the limitations of the discipline or the term. in this way they are invested in the same urban geography. Second. Hybrid Geographies. Finally. 7 An comprehensive examination of the way artists are employing scientific and sociological concepts in their artwork can be found in the book. but through creative experience. upholding the ‘interference’ of the non-human in social life. 6 In Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. it differs from the work of Political Ecologists primarily in incorporating creative methods and perspectives. Sarah Whatmore questions the hierarchy of relations between the categories of the human. First. Art can serve as a catalyst for a discursive and conceptual transformation of ecological thinking. going so far as to call for a shift toward “green materialist” philosophy. to analyze the work of numerous artists and creative performances. but to show how a relocation of the intellectual and metaphoric framework (oikos) of ecology can take place not only through writing and research. environment and culture is implicated in Eliasson’s construction of dual sunsets and colored waterways.7 Banham and Eliasson were chosen for this paper for precise reasons. Banham and Eliasson exist in intimate conversation since both critic and artist have written about. 2 . within this context. nonhuman. His argument is extremely relevant for this paper. expanding its potential for the democratic practice of Political Ecology. She examines the political and theoretical implications of a new recognition of dispersed agency. I will focus on the criticism of the architectural theorist Reyner Banham and the recent urban interventions of the contemporary Icelandic installation artist Olafur Eliasson.briefly turn to in this paper.

Latour wonders. Haeckel’s definition of ecology denotes a world outside of human influence. variant and chaotic human societies (poleis)?11 Latour argues that in order to progress further in the study of human/ 8 My analysis of the term oikos as a metaphor and an architectural term is also informed by: Kulper. that makes the traditional formulation of ecology such an uncertain framework for examining the cosmopolitical spaces of the twenty first century. Mineapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. that contrasts a single. unified nature-system (bios) with multiple. the most patriarchal of its terms. “all conditions of existence. Vol 4 (1) pp. The Oikos of Political Ecology In his 1866 text.II. it is exactly the alienation of the polis (the center of social life) from the so-called kingdom of nature. 3 . in Political Ecology’s incorporation of a term. diplomacy. Bruno. a world of “natural” systems and complexities. Cosmopolitics I. partly inorganic in nature” (my emphasis). Bononno. 10 Stengers. and a scientific discipline. “Ecology without the Oikos: Banham. and the separation of human agency from that of the nonhuman world. R (trans.10 What is at stake. therefore. combination. Isabelle. I use the term “cosmopolitical” as it was coined by Isabelle Stengers and later appropriated by Bruno Latour to denote “the management. The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy. “home” and “house. 67-84. the German biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel coined the term “ecology” to denote. 9 Latour. Paris: Édition la Découverte. In The Politics of Nature. These are partly organic.). Dallegret and the Morphological Context of Environmental Architecture” FieldJournal. Amy. Haeckel employed the root of the Greek word oikos. or in Bruno Latour’s terms a veritable “Noah’s Ark. 2010.” separate and apart from the sphere of human life. 2004. the one that has always been the most distant from polis and the exercise of liberty?”9 Indeed. and negotiation of human and nonhuman agencies. It is interesting to note. the most domestic. “that a term [ecology] used for nature external to humanity can take from Greek the most anthropocentric. that in delineating a nonhuman world. 10.” 11 Poleis is the plural form of the Greek word polis (city. however. meaning “dwelling-place”. p.”8 Haeckel’s terminology therefore suggests a unified kingdom. center of social life).

broods – and that it is completely superfluous to include in an inhuman and a-historical nature. The epigraph to this essay by Reyner Banham is a lucid and creative analogy for this idea. the metaphor of a unified oikos. and its heavy affiliations. “What term other than ecology would allow us to welcome nonhumans into politics?” (Latour 2004). p.12 Latour proposes that the Ecology of Political Ecology must be conceptually hollowed out – it must be understood to denote not a unified architecture of nature but a space for the active performance of humans. institutions. pigs. 14 Is there a reason that we should have to stick with ecology. privileges the autonomous system over the confining structure of the house. In other words. and the agency that lies in the interstitial links between the two. Latour asks. the oikos of Ecology – the somewhat limiting intellectual basis on which the term has been built and the discipline practiced – must be relocated to a new. evolve more closely with the work we wish to do? Moreover. it might require less effort (and produce more benefits) if we “shake up” or relocate an existing one (Latour 2004). Nature is not in question in ecology: on the contrary. Moreover. which suggests a natural realm separate from the multiplicity of human societies. might be replaced with the concept of a network or system (if a house is entirely supported by systems. Ecology has the fundamental strength of including both nonhumans and inorganic processes in its intellectual netting. consumers. 15. 4 . or home.nonhuman relationships and the economic forces intertwined with them. It has to do with associations of beings that take complicated forms-rules. apparatuses. mores. if it is to be made useful for the purposes of Political Ecology. and like Latour and other theorists. ecology dissolves nature's contours and redistributes its agents.14 12 13 Latour 2004. nonhumans and technologies together. Political Ecology must “let go of Nature:” Political ecology does not speak about nature and has never sought to do so. Rather than eliminating a resonant term. cows. rather than employing or inventing some other term? Latour makes the salient point that the study of ecology is still in its infancy: why must we assume that it cannot mature further. why keep the walls?)13 It is through this paradigmatic and conceptual shift that Political Ecology can freely incorporate bios and polis. cosmopolitical ground. calves.

Bounding difference: Intersectionality and the material production of gender.”1617 It is to creativity we now turn.In considering the conceptual framework of Political Ecology. 15 Two wonderful examples of Stengers’ cosmopolitics in practice (to my young understanding of the discipline of Political Ecology) are: Swyngedouw. An example of this cosmopolitical gesture in the world of art criticism is found in the work of Reyner Banham. artists and art critics are also engaged with the ways humans and nonhumans form site-specific and evolving networks. Olafur Eliasson. class and environment in Nepal. and Nightingale. Olafur. Geoforum 42 (2):153-162. ecologists and social scientists are not the only thinkers weighing the politics of ecology.. social and technological in diverse sites and conditions. is directly engaged with Stengers’ cosmopolitics: in addition to his creative practice. “cosmo-politically correct. “Power. Foothills. except to note that many political ecologists are breaking new ground in performing rigorous studies of the entanglement between the human and nonhuman. The conquest of water and the political ecology of urbanization in Guayaquil. The Sun Has No Money. (2008.. an architectural critic and writer whose 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies characterizes Los Angeles with four ecological spaces (Surfurbia. Ecuador 1880-1990. “The Sun Has No Money. and Autopia). E. in the hopes of elucidating how an art critic and a contemporary artist have dissembled the traditional architecture of ecology in favor of one that is even more liberal and fluid with its designation and understanding of agency. or Cosmo-politically correct” in his introduction to Eliasson’s lecture at the Université des Sciences Politiques. 2011. Lecture given from the Université des Sciences Politiques in Paris. The Plains of Id.” 5 . and has been labeled by Bruno Latour himself as.C. Andrea J. nature.15 The topic to which the remainder of the paper will be devoted is the understudied fact that economists. Eliasson has lectured at the Université des Sciences Politiques in Paris.” Environment and Planning 29: 311-332. 17 Bruno Latour called Olafur Eliasson “C. it is beyond the scope of this paper to measure and evaluate the many recent trends in the discipline. Rather. 16 Eliasson. caste. and the city. October). on the other hand.

from without. Reyner. and the politics of hydrology to map the peculiar growth of the city. 20 Banham 20. The Production of Space.”19 He explores the transportation systems of L. including the rocks of the Santa Monica Mountains. In his “Ecology IV: Autopia. building.18 Banham sought to understand the growth and life of Los Angeles in terms of human and nonhuman influences. 21 In his analysis of such systems. University of California Press: 2001. communication. and has been hoisted into the sunshine by a prolonged geological lifting process. the cultural territories of South Central and Beverley Hills. Banham examines how the entity of the freeway conditions its users and “prints itself deeply on the conscious mind and unthinking reflexes. and pleasure. Banham is very informed by the work of the French theorist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre. was beginning to wax from its glittering status as a model metropolis for the future.” for example. shifts in agrarian production.”20 Banham’s work on the landscape of Los Angeles is concerned primarily with systems: of water and power.21 Banham does not view Los Angeles as a static entity. Reyner Banham and Olafur Eliasson in Dialogue Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies is a study of environmental experience in a city that. 6 . as a constellation of possible contexts. but as a dynamic space of flows – one that is perhaps most effectively 18 19 Banham. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. at the time of his research.III. Yet his infrastructural analysis is informed by the geologic properties of the region: “Los Angeles has only recently emerged from the ocean. transit. who theorized the relationship between social modes of production and concrete city spaces in his work. the ubiquitous eight-lane overpasses. the piece as a whole incorporates the varied spheres of public and private investment. While Banham privileges architecture and methods of moving. and the horizon-obscuring smog. most of what is now the Greater Los Angeles basin was below sea-level in Jurassic times. Banham 35.A. as well as from within as they impact the lives of their various inhabitants.

26 Banham 18. and significant histories. This was indeed intentional: Banham explains that a traditional historical account of the city would be.understood in the “language of motion. Los Angeles: University of California Press: 2001. because the point about this giant city. Readers are confronted with a work of urban political ecology that is interwoven again and again with aesthetic observations. arteries of movement and multi-scalar vistas. and these further with historical and bibliographical notes.”22 As Anthony Vidler writes of Banham’s urban geography: “it was a freeway model of history. “with that freedom of movement that is the prime symbolic attribute of the Angel City. Passages of history or description are literally interrupted without warning by passages on related but different subjects. “a boring and uninstructive journey. Debord invented a way of experiencing Parisian city life and terrain by “drifting” through its corridors and alleyways. absorbing its’ concrete as well as cultural and ephemeral realities. is that all its parts are equal and equally accessible from all other parts at once. Introduction.” Los Angeles: Architecture of Four Ecologies. 1971. 24 With the term “psychogeography” I am referencing Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s Psychogeographical Map of Paris. “Los Angeles: City of the Immediate Future. 7 . It is as if the book itself has a topography with flatlands.”23 Banham’s focus on systems is evident in the design of his text: his analysis of Los Angeles is less historiography than a psychogeography of the city’s space-time scenarios. 25 Banham 18. which the two thinkers/ artists completed in conjunction with the Situationist Manifesto. Vidler. foothills.”26 The aspect of Banham’s work that is most relevant to our discussion is not that he undertook in the 1970s what many Political Ecologists today might consider a sophisticated 22 23 Banham 150.” Banham demands that the reader should treat the book in the same way.24 From a structural perspective. auto-ethnographical descriptions. which has grown almost simultaneously all over. “an almost random or Brownian motion over the area. Banham intersected chapters on the four “ecologies” with those on architecture itself. By Reyner Banham.”25 Just as everyday commuting in Los Angeles seems to move by. looking at the city through movement and as itself in movement. Anthony.

freeways weave humans in webs of entanglement and dependence just as actively as humans build new freeways. Rather. Banham’s project presents us with a Los Angeles that is dramatically ecological. In Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The point is not only that humans. Banham’s work is incredibly relevant in its radical reframing of agency in the urban environment. The political ecology of the Los Angeles cityscape reaches into the space between the reader’s eye and the page. synthetic structures. acculturation and reinvention. between the individual and the book-object (two actants in a network of mediation). nonhumans and things all exercise agency. but through collaborative processes in his studio. nor a scientist. Olafur Eliasson is no environmentalist. but that the expression of agency is never uniform and lies in the complex relations between entities. geography and natural sciences. and intellectual dialogue with theorists across the world. Reyner Banham’s ideas on urban ecology and aesthetic form can be traced directly into the work of the contemporary installation artist Olafur Eliasson. albeit with aesthetic leanings. Ecological conditions. Banham delegates agency outward from his pen to the hands of his readers.analysis of a modern city. whose practice is informed by a similar intersection of aesthetics. actively designing their own experience of both the author’s representation and the city it documents. readers can map their own paths across the book’s highly unusual historical and pictorial landscape. and objects have agency as part of an endless web of design. Eliasson has established himself as a leading 8 . Therefore in perspective and in design. and the term “architecture” is expanded to denote anything from villas in Malibu to the strip-malls of the Valley to beach shacks and even surfboards. and whose systems rely on mutually evolving human and nonhuman actors. Even in the way he writes.

“Human-thing entanglement: towards an integrated archaeological perspective. Daniel. Vol 17.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 2007. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Thames and Hudson.27 For a piece called “Erosion”. Now. Ed. Visions: The Green River Project Olafur Eliasson would likely agree with Bruno Latour that humans exist in complex systems of dependence with non-human entities. colors and ephemera. organic materials and human life. one way to prove that nonhuman bodies or materials have agency is to dramatically alter their features so that they transcend what humans understand as their stereotypical mode of being. and humans. and willfully expressing his ideas on the relevance of art in political and social conversations.” Hodder 156. Colors. 29 In his recent publication. and the intersection of technologies. rather. and placed a series of 30-meter high waterfalls on the Lower East River dividing Brooklyn and Manhattan (Figures 1 and 2). This is perhaps best explained through an installation: in an intervention entitled Green 27 An examination of Eliasson’s heliotropic projects can be found in: Birnbaum. animals. 154 – 177.2829 For Eliasson. The artist has constructed dual “suns” on the Utrecht skyline.” Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson. like the anthropological scholar Ian Hodder. they intervene in urban landscapes. Eliasson emptied a rainwater reservoir and slowly spilled its contents onto the streets of Johannesburg (Figure 3). pp. 131–42. The Agency of Rivers. IV. plants. Madeleine Grynztejn. Ian Hodder defines his conception of what constitutes a “thing” with agency in networks of which humans are a part: “naturally occurring objects. Ian. Olafur Eliasson’s works are not confined to museums and gallery spaces. Eliasson might include in these networks the agency of waves. as well as sounds and words – any object or sound in which humans have an interest. Human-Thing Entanglement. 28 Hodder. “Heliotrope. 9 . Eliasson is changing how natural and built environments are negotiated by everyday people. leading a new school for space experimentation in his East Berlin studio.voice on the democratic use of public spaces. and. A permanent outdoor installation entitled “Yellow Fog” is activated every day at dusk in a downtown square of Vienna (Figure 4).

and its mouth moved frequently along the coast from Long Beach to Ballona Creek. and has possessed this agency for centuries.A. The basin did not exist as a static. The Green River is just a catalyst.A. “places are best thought of not so much as enduring sites but as moments of encounter. River has been a force of place-making. 31 Speaks. “Olafur Eliasson”. As Nigel Thrift argues. Owain and Paul Cloke. “Non-Human Agencies: Trees in Place and Time”. but rather as a locality in constant flux. it held an unusually dramatic role in shaping the landscape of the Los Angeles basin. Material Agency.31 The green was so startling that the river could be seen for miles.30 Eliasson described the effect: Putting the green colour in the stream for a moment made it hyperreal – everybody. “From the Red Desert to the Green River. looked at the river. witnessed during the Green River project was that the urban river has agency. 33 Here I take the idea of place-making from: Jones.’ fixed in space and time. United Kingdon. . snaking like an abstract stroke of paint through the browns and grays of the L. the river’s path was unpredictable. The point was not even Green River. twists and fluxes of 30 The dye employed by the Eliasson team was a variation of Uranin – a tracer chemical used by biologists to track turbulence and underwater flows. Michael. 2002. 32 Michael Speaks expands on this thought in his essay. 10 . New York: Phaidon. The green effluvium spun through the eddies of the concrete-walled stream. in the publication. running freely across the floodplain of modern-day Los Angeles and Long Beach.River. pristine place. not so much as ‘presents. “From the Red Desert to the Green River”. recalling mutant life forms and petrochemical production in surprising beauty. 2002. 2008. without knowing that it was an art project . Eliasson and a small team dumped an ecologically safe neon-green dye into the urban river of Los Angeles. the L. landscape.” Olafur Eliasson. Since the beginning of human presence in the region.A.33 As an alluvial river. . but as variable events.32 What viewers in L. and all its histories became extremely visible. and for an instant the power and the turbulence and the volume and speed of the water. the point was how it looked before and after.

Polity Press.A. Olafur Eliasson did not 34 Thrift. p. ANT posits that there are mutually constitutive and related “actants” which together serve to form and hybridize agency. 37 Latour 2005. Bruno. the river’s internal dynamics. Oxford University Press. “Steps to an ecology of place. one was impressed by the hue and tone of the green water. Non-representational Theory: Space. N.”36 The agency that the L. its hosting of a myriad of native and exotic species. and P. The ability of this body to make a difference in its surroundings – a trait it had possessed all along – was projected from its depths to the retinas of curious observers.35 The question of non-human agency is one that can be traced to Bruno Latour. and while it maintains little of its historical flows. 295–352. J. so poignantly highlighted by Olafur Eliasson in Green River. Allen. River possesses the ability to “make differences” – it exercises agency. Cambridge. New York: Routledge. Politics.A. 76. Oxford: 2005. Olafur Eliasson gave the river a means of expression. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory. 2008. Latour defines an “actant” as something that “modifies a state of affairs by making a difference. is not the kind of reflexive agency exercised by humans. Massey. In his seminal work Reassembling the Social.37 However. Affect. ed. the incomprehensible logic of water and mineral. Sarre. 77. beings and things. in ways too numerous to detail here (including its modification of the landscape of the Los Angeles basin. The political potential in Eliasson’s work lies in the fact that the artist made the agency of the river explicit. Los Angeles and the L. and its understudied impacts on the ecologies of the beaches) the L. River performed across time. relative motion. pp. 36 Latour. River are nevertheless in constant. By adding his non-toxic green dye.interrelation. 11 . Nigel. Bruno Latour argues that ANT is a fluid model that allows us to study networks between humans and non-humans. Staring into the complexity of pattern.”34 While the river is now encased in concrete.A. Michel Callon and John Law who framed Actor Network Theory (ANT). D.” Human Geography Today. 35 Thrift. p.

A.38 The green chosen by the Eliasson studio was startlingly vivid. (2007. and Stockholm. but with urban ecologies. but also a phenomenon of surprising beauty in the last place one might expect it. neighborhoods are conspicuously lacking in vegetation (noticeably not green). witnessed a test run of the Green River project in Berlin. and in Tokyo.” 42 This political and environmental justice oriented aspect to the project was not as evident when the artist repeated the intervention in the rivers of Berlin. “Thinking Glacially. 2009. a prominent art critic.39 Yet the overwhelming responses to the artwork were exclamations of its beauty (Figures 3 and 4). notably by art historians and critics. Eliasson observed that the level of interest in the project in L.nytimes. The statements are supported by later remarks. the river banks often hosted some of the most lavish and wealthy neighborhoods. Acting Artfully. September 2).A. The element of surprise was achieved through the use of a color that engaged with themes of ecological disaster and social justice as well as natural beauty – a color that exerted its own (highly political) agency. are some of the city’s poorest: the banks are industrial (including several of the city’s major rail yards) and unlike West-L.augment or change the river’s natural capacity to act or “make differences”. 16 April 2009. Tokyo. Personal Interview.42 The startling color of the dye at once suggested a violation of the city’s most destitute areas. Eliasson timed his project to intersect with the falling of cherry blossom petals. 39 Miriam Schaub discusses the importance and weight that Eliasson gives to shades of light and color in: "The Logic of Light: Technology and the Human Turn. the Green River project may have gone unnoticed in Los Angeles due not only to the 38 The dye employed by the Eliasson studio was a variation on Uranin – a chemical used by scientists to trace and measure currents. 43 Eliasson. Dorothy.html?pagewanted=all> 41 This claim is made according to several of Olafur Eliasson’s studio assistants. 12 . “It looked phenomenal. The difference in reaction to the project among these various cities underscores Eliasson’s engagement not just with spectacle and display. whom I met at his studio in East Berlin. nobody cared. Cologne: Walther König Verlag. When Klaus Biesenbach. 40 Spears. In the latter cities. he simply provided it with the element of surprise. he told a reporter at the New York Times. <http://www. just stunningly beautiful. was low: “[unlike in Stockholm] in L.4041 The political weight of the artwork was also mobilized by the fact that the neighborhoods surrounding the river in L. Olafur. Still." Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary: The Collection Book. and immediately suggested something toxic or synthesized. nobody nobody stopped. in a private interview.A.”43 Despite it’s beauty.A.” The New York Times.

47 The phenomenal distortion or dramatization of the river.” “Hyperreal” for Eliasson refers to a dramatic uncovering of history. 46 Banham 34.’s most destitute regions. Eliasson momentarily shakes up the hierarchy of relations in the physical and virtual city.45 Indeed.A. is immediately stunning. river. Reyner Banham argues that L. Reyner Banham analyzes “the art of ‘Doing Your Thing’” as endemic to Los Angeles. it is useful to consider the artwork’s geography. especially as it flows through L. Simulacra and Simulation.” Baudrillard.44 To understand his meaning. In his book on Los Angeles. I would like to draw attention to one resonant phrase: hyperreal. Recalling Olafur Eliasson’s brief description of the Green River.A. 47 “Los Angeles is no longer real. Los Angeles is somewhat peculiar as a metropolis since throughout its history. 1994. to create something that is hyperreal is a gesture that can break through the homogenizing images (Baudrillard’s hyperrealities) which societies create. In drawing a hyper-awareness to the L. 13 . thrives not on a freshwater body. The politics of water transport and storage – an especially contentious topic in this city – magnify the contradictions inherent in this spectacular urban project. but belongs to the order of simulation. 45 Banham 54.46 Jean Baudrillard would take the argument further. for Eliasson. saying that it is through chasing a specific image of itself that Los Angeles becomes ever more intertwined a virtual ideal of sun and sand – and therefore more addicted to the consumerist tendencies that uphold this postcardimage. In other words. as it is a gesture that confronts and penetrates the coherent dream of Los Angeles.structure of the city as a whole (Banham’s “Autopia”) but also due to the industrial and marginalized social nature of the river (and artwork’s) location. and a breaking through what Jean Baudrillard would call the “hyperreality” of Los Angeles (it’s attempt to fulfill a certain idea of itself). 44 Olafur Eliasson’s use of the term “hyper-real” is related but not equivalent to Jean Baudrillard’s “hyperreality. University of Michigan. hypnotic sunsets and “doing your own thing”. Jean. but on the Pacific Ocean: its ideals are symbolized not in its canals but in the democratizing space of its beaches. it took a great deal of technological manipulation for the basin to become livable for humans.A. the place has been represented as somehow removed from reality – a land of leisure. threatening and political.

Rekjavik Art Museum. 49 Eliasson discusses his interest in the fluidity of the urban landscape. A cultural vision might be considered a virtual element of a specific landscape like Los Angeles.A. Eliasson’s Green River not only displaces agency to an entity seemingly masked by human technologies.50 In a sense. what Eliasson has done is to highlight and politicize both ecology and dream. Manuel Castells and Gilles Deleuze have argued for the penetration of the virtual into everyday life and spaces. Eliasson makes the urban artery “hyperreal” not only by briefly unmasking its internal dynamics. “The Space of Flows. V. 2009. Eliasson’s framing of agency extends not only to 48 As Manuel Castells argues in his essay.” the interplay of action and response in a given environment can also extend into virtual spaces. as Eliasson proposed earlier. While Reyner Banham proved that a systems-based attempt at urban geography could reveal the variety of dispersed agencies at work in the space of Los Angeles. and of returning a sense of negotiability of space and time to the viewer in: “Your Engagement Has Consequences” Experiment Marathon: Serpentine Gallery. Moreover. his argument is important for this essay as it presumes that unseen or invisible forces (the virtual.49 This is not to say that Eliasson’s project is to juxtapose the “reality” of the river with the “unreality” of the city – but rather to show that the space of Los Angeles is produced by human and nonhuman engagement with a very specific and culturally resonant vision of place. ecological conditions and cultural visions at work in the urban landscape. “the Green River is just a catalyst:” the artwork is less about the marginalized body of the river than about the dance of action and response in the urban landscape. 50 It is relevant to note that scholars like Manuel Delanda. While Castells primarily studies flows of information and data in the internet age. but also by emphasizing the fluid relations among humans.Nevertheless.48 In dropping a pocketful of green dye in the L. 14 . River. the imaginary) are both products of society’s modes of production as well as actors in physical localities (especially cities!). Art and Oikos The Green River is “hyperreal” since it dramatizes the agency of a river (the product of both an existing watershed and human infrastructure) in the context of a magnificent city still grappling with its imagined symbiosis with the sea. nonhumans. but shows how both river and city are influenced by the agency of a cultural vision.

In Banham’s work the ecology of Los Angeles extends. 15 . and all the way up to the resonance of visions and dreams. “all the way down” to language itself. and of the changing relationships between humans. as Richard Rorty would say. as Bruno Latour argues. conditions and actors. planes for axes. Eliasson’s Green River is cosmopolitical all the way down to the minutiae of colors and ephemera.materials. its status as a discipline requires a more liberal and moving conception of agency – then perhaps it can derive instruction and inspiration from creative gestures which are actively stripping away the walls of the “house” to reveal its ubiquitous and generative systems. and structure for fabric. Their works are expressions of an ecology that trades boundaries for connections. The works of Olafur Eliasson and Reyner Banham are not unique in their reevaluation of the urban geography of Los Angeles. 2003. but also to colors and images: his is an agency of the ephemeral and the imaginary. 51 Allen.” Using Social Theory: Thinking Through Research. but also immaterial affects and sensations. What both Banham and Eliasson have done so effectively is to assert and perform a definition of ecology that is physically and virtually democratic. If Political Ecology is to practice an increasingly inclusive and dynamic study of networks and assemblages in the world – if.5152 Furthermore. John. more tool than manual. and to the performance of reader and/with book. Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies is more map than list. scope and design. encompassing not only humans and technologies. more phenomenology than history: it is truly a vehicle for understanding the city in all its organic and synthetic dimensions. 52 Here I am quoting John Allen’s citation of Richard Rorty’s remarks on language and the performance of questions. if Banham’s writing is cosmopolitical to the level of language and experience. London: Sage Publications. “A Question of Language. The work of Reyner Banham and Olafur Eliasson is cosmopolitical in nature.

16 . in addition to creatively proposing future scenarios and solutions. Science as Culture. First published on: 14 April 2011. Jennifer and Yusoff. collaborations between artists and scientists may prove useful in representing and understanding shifts in both human and nonhuman agency. Kathryn (2011) “Arts. Political Ecology and its academic proponents may be leaders in proving the relevance of dialogue between the arts and sciences. 53 Gabrys.nonhumans and technologies. and of advancing creative studies as a more fundamental component of scientific and sociological investigation.53 As a discipline that is in essence interdisciplinary. Sciences and Climate Change: Practices and Politics at the Threshold”. As our climate changes in unpredictable dimensions.

Figures Cited Figure 1: Olafur Eliasson. Double Sunset. 17 . 1999.

The New York City Waterfalls. 2008. 18 .Figure 2: Olafur Eliasson.

1997.Figure 3: Olafur Eliasson. Erosion. 19 .

1998/ 2008.Figure 4: Olafur Eliasson. 20 . Yellow Fog.

2000.Figure 5: Olafur Eliasson. 21 . Green River.

Green River. 1999.Figure 6: Olafur Eliasson. 22 .

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