Water Gold Soil: The American River tells the story of a single flow of water in present-day California from origin point to end-use. The project is equal parts historiography and allegory— using this geography to investigate our present Age of Extraction. As with other water flows in the American West, the “American River” is no longer a river, but rather a site of water capture and distribution, with a definite beginning but diffuse end.
Virtually all rivers in California have two identities: what people normally think of as a river —water flowing scenically along — but also a calculated part of California’s water management infrastructure. This infrastructure, according to leading California water expert Jay Lund is, “a system that was largely designed to support an agricultural economy envisioned in the latter 1800s.” Water in this system is rendered a commodity — increasingly in short supply due to climate change — owned the moment it leaves the ground.
Water Gold Soil: The American River examines this less visible, technological reality of California rivers by following a single flow of water –The American River – from its origin near Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada mountains to its end use in the agricultural economy in California’s Central Valley.
The project incorporates large-scale landscape photography, video, archival images, maps and writing, a diversity of form and materials borne out of the challenges of representing the nexus of relationships — ecological, political, and historical — that make up a river.
Sayler/Morris work with photography, video, writing, installation and open source web projects. Of primary concern are contemporary efforts to develop ecological consciousness and the possibility for art to support social movements. In 2020, they initiated Toolshed, a new platform to gather and share tools for a livable future. From 2006 to 2020 they co-directed The Canary Project, a studio producing media and art deepening public understanding of climate change. They currently teach in the Transmedia Department at Syracuse University, where they co-direct The Canary Lab.