A Dry Year
Reservoirs are the primary water features that allow us to drink, bathe, water lawns and golf courses, fill swimming pools, and irrigate crops. Dams are the containers of reservoirs, and surrender their form to engineering and function. Without dams the pastoral would not exist in the western United States. They are holistically functional architecture that makes life and agriculture possible in an otherwise uninhabitable region.
The pastoral landscape made possible by dams and reservoirs is the subject of regional paintings and photographs that take part in the tradition started by Thoreau and Church, among others – a tradition that is foundational to American identity and art history. The same landscapes that inspired such individuals now support a tourism industry that generates billions of dollars on an annual basis, and (because of dams) is able to sustain tens of millions of individuals, where 70 years ago there were only thousands.
Dams as form are situated at the nexus of Modernism and the pastoral, in that they supply irrigation, making the pastoral possible, and that they are aesthetic forms. Both the Hudson River School and Modernists explored the idea of the sublime through the pastoral or form respectively.