Public Art Project Uncovers the Long History of the L.A. River

Refik Anadol Studios on Facebook
Refik Anadol Studios on Facebook / Refik Anadol Studios on Facebook


is a biennial, Los Angeles-based public art project that isn't just about culture—it's about bringing awareness to relevant civic issues. This year, 16 artists created works centered around the theme of water, which are now taking form at various locations in Los Angeles. Co.Exist recently shared the details of one project that has transformed a section of the L.A. River beneath the city's 1st Street Bridge. The concrete channel is often famously dry, but the installation by artists Peggy Weil and Refik Anadol, called UnderLA, reveals the hidden water source that lies beneath.

Refik Anadol Studios on Facebook

"We used the L.A. River as a canvas, and light as a material, and we project several visual stories," Anadol told Co.Exist. In a Facebook 360 video of the installation, Weil said that while studying historical illustrations of the aquifers, she discovered that they had been depicted as underground rivers. "If anybody had any idea that there are these named bodies of water flowing under us, maybe we would take more care of them." The resulting art project is a site-specific projection of layers of sediment as far down as 1400 feet, photographed with macro lenses and shown at twice IMAX resolution. As the viewer goes deeper by way of the projected images, he or she is meant to be visually transported millions of years back in time.

The project also shows changes in water levels over time due to drought and overuse. "There's an emotional component to this," Weil told Co.Exist, "because it's our history, and it's also our future." After moving to the origin of the L.A. River on July 30 and 31, UnderLA returns to the 1st Street Bridge on August 13 and 14. Fourteen other installations are currently on display on and around the river.

[h/t FastCo Exist

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at