Stunning Photographs of California’s Saline Lake, Salton Sea

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Imagery courtesy Wanda OrmeStill from As Above, So Below, 2019

In a new series, exclusively previewed on, artist Wanda Orme directs her exploration of desire to another kind of body – a body of water

In 2010, artist and writer Wanda Orme visited Salton Sea with a friend of her mother’s. This sunken body of saline water in the desert of the Imperial and Coachella valleys, just north of the US/Mexico border, became instantly important to her. Having moved from London to San Diego when she was 21 to complete a PHD in anthropology, she had felt somewhat alienated and disoriented: at Salton she discovered “a massive sense of freedom”. She’s not alone in her sentiment.

In 2015 the Bombay Beach Biennial begun, an annual (despite the name) arts festival – the latest iteration of which took place only last week. The rapidly shrinking Salton Sea is a source of great discussion here. While the Colorado River has been shrinking and gorging, and moving vast swathes of silt along its edge for millennia (creating huge banks of very fertile land in the process), an attempt to control it in the early 20th century led to its almost entire – and accidental – diversion. The result is a glittering sea in the desert but, without an outlet, and while water is further diverted to serve urban populations, the lake continues to evaporate revealing a bank of toxic dust that has driven out its once-thriving communities.

A resort town in the 1950s, Bombay Beach lies on its edge – now largely abandoned, its hoard of empty houses and buildings play host to this annual art gathering, of which Orme’s latest work As Above, So Below is a part. “It’s making an offering to the thing that you love,” Orme explained of the installation piece – a series of 12 recycled satellite dishes, planted in and along the water’s edge. Filled with 24 gallons of Pacific Ocean water (unfulfilled promises have been made to channel water from that same ocean into the lake), they stood as miniature lakes, evaporating in the sun, a reflection of the huge body surrounding them. Having previously intertwined her focus on sex and the sensual, with this very same body of water in her work Take Me Where The Salt Is, here she looks at the water as a body of its own.

“What is so important to remember about this place, that’s deemed by society as so problematic, so separate from us, is its fundamental relationship to everything that surrounds it, and that the things which make it most problematic are also those which make it most special. In a desert, all waters are holy – the beauty and the vulnerability of this place are intimately linked. So the title of the work, As Above, So Below, references this profound fullness and cyclical continuity. I love this sea and I’ve been thinking a lot about deterritorialising desire – as well as an ethics of care, wanting to move away from a hierarchy in which human bodies are primary. This is an emotional relationship with a non-human-entity. Anne Carson said once that she loved the lake of her childhood summers as if it was a person. And that’s how I feel. It gives me so much pleasure.”

The piece, As Above, So Below, was erected for the 2019 Bombay Beach Biennale.