Over 80% of the world’s almonds grow in California’s arid Central Valley, which regularly suffers from drought and further aridification due to climate change.
One pound of these almonds uses about 1,230 gallons of water to grow – almost 12 liters for a single kernel.
One Pound of Almonds makes almonds’ water footprint tangible. It consists of 17 concentric circles of gallon jugs (3.78 liters each) filled with water. A one-pound glass jar of almonds stands in the center of these circles on top of a small pillar. To get to the almonds, visitors pass along a narrow pathway through the field of water in 1,230 plastic gallons, lit from within at night by tiny LEDs.
One Pound of Almonds was first installed during the 2023 Bombay Beach Biennale on the playa of the drying Salton Sea, which is suffering from the same wicked problems of climate change, water laws, and changing hydrologies as the almond-growing Central Valley. And their fates are closely connected.
Using 1,230 plastic jugs and about 4,600 liters of water for an art project could be counterproductive to shining light on wasteful environmental practices. Therefore, we collaborated with communities around the Salton Sea and friends to collect used gallons and sourced additional jugs from a recycling place in Brawley. We filled these jugs with water we borrowed from the Salton Sea and returned once the installation wrapped up. The pillar with the pound of almonds is the only trace left behind on the shore of the Salton Sea. As a permanent, site-specific installation, we hope it continues to spark debate and reflection about agricultural practices and their ecological consequences in the region and beyond.
Sitting on the shore beach, we start hand-pumping Salton Sea water into the gallons on Tuesday, March 27. We do so in silence, considering the fate of the sea, the almonds, and humans’ role in nature. We also invite people, residents, visiting artists, or tourists to join the process. We break the silence with visitors, listen to their stories, and learn about their experiences and thoughts about nature, its marvels, and loss.
Filling 1,230 gallons by hand pumping Salton Sea water will take about three full days of human labor under a grudging sun – work that fossil-fuel-driven pumps usually provide within seconds. In so doing, the performance evokes Buckminster Fuller’s invisible ‘energy slaves,’ the human-labor equivalents of fossil sunlight that we use daily in the form of fossil fuels like coal, gas, and petroleum.
One Pound of Almonds is an extension of our ongoing exploration into global agriculture’s social and ecological consequences. In the framework of our LandRush project, we collaborate with farmers, fishers, scientists, indigenous peoples, and activists since 2007 to investigate seed-, water- and land rights, environmental justice, climate change, and the future of agriculture worldwide. We have been using video, photography, text and sound as investigative research tools of sense making, growing LandRush organically, chapter by chapter, in a constant research, production, and presentation cycle. This open process has allowed individual chapters and the project as a whole to surface in ever-new contexts, gradually bridging traditional journalistic publications, such as magazine and newspaper articles and short films, to linear web documentaries, interactive apps, an extensive video archive, books, and spatial multichannel installations at art institutions and museums.