Desiccation/ The river below

(2023) Animation, 1-minute loop By Alex! Jimenez
Still from animated short "Desiccation/The river below" by Alex! Jimenez with lightning over downtown Tucson

March 11-14, 2023
Wonder House | Café Blue

Alex! Jimenez’s short piece “Desiccation/The River Below” is a frame by frame animation illustrating the desiccation of clay as it succumbs to the sun. The geometric forms created when clay dries have long fascinated the artist. As the animation progresses, the clay tiles are removed to reveal a flowing river underneath.

The Santa Cruz River whose flow supported early civilizations in the southwest was the site of the first performance that Logan Phillips did using the audio library. The Santa Cruz River is currently dry, with short seasonal flows during the monsoon season. Yet a hundreds of feet below the cracked clay of the Santa Cruz River, groundwater flows. Pools of colored contamination float through the water, these shapes are from maps that represent the concentration of the pollutant Trichlorothylene (TCE) that is in the aquifer below Tucson's Southside and under the southern part of the Santa Cruz River.

TCE is a chemical agent that was used in airplane part manufacturing and dumped into the washes of the south side of Tucson by the aircraft manufacturer Hughes. The aquifer below the south side of Tucson became the first EPA Superfund site and since the 1980s efforts have been made to remediate the water. This water, while invisible to us, is still in need of care. 

Water is a critical resource and a scarce commodity in the desert. Tucson’s “birthplace” is on the banks of the Santa Cruz River.  It is on the flows of this river that the earliest inhabitants, the Hohokum built a community 4,000 years ago. Later replaced by the Tohono O’odham peoples who also grew crops and lived along the river, Chukson was an oasis that supported much life. After colonization by Spanish missionaries in the 1600’s what was “Chukson” became “Tucson” and many more migrated and settled in these lands. The river was quickly depleted and by the early 1900’s was only flowing seasonally. Groundwater pumping continued until a system of canals began delivering Colorado River water to Tucson in 1992.

Tucson’s growth to nearly a million people has been built on this external source of water. This water delivery system is the definition of “interconnected” yet with climate change, it is clear it’s not sustainable. The fate of our water cannot depend on the Colorado River. For the past few decades, Tucson Water has focused on banking water underground with the knowledge that our Colorado River allotment will deplete.  Our attention has turned to capturing every drop that falls from the sky during our summer monsoon season. Thus the monsoons have been a focus of mine and the Santa Cruz River, a representation of our impact on the water table, the site of my artistic focus.

“Tucson Monsoon” depicts the fast and furious nature of these tropical storms and serves as a backdrop to Logan’s performance which uses field recordings of the summer rains captured in 2021. Alex!'s piece “Desiccation/The River Below” is an acknowledgment of the buried water we live upon and how human activity has negatively affected it. We are connected to the water below our feet, what we do above ground affects below. It is interconnected thinking that is required to have any future in these arid lands.