By: Sarra Tekola
August 3rd, 2017
Set only six years in the future, Drylab was a part science-fiction and part experiential project and social experiment. The participants, 8 women, all took on identities other than their own as a medium through which to tell the story of this project.
Six years in the future, due to the previous presidential administration's decision to take away environmental regulations and wage another world war, water has become privatized and a scarce commodity.
Eight women, all students at Arizona State University, signed up to participate in the project, split evenly between scientists and artists (which made for a challenging dynamic at times). Perhaps the fact that it was all women volunteers tells us something about our future.
The participants blogged nearly daily about their experiences and narratives through the eyes of their adopted personas. In order to live out this alternative reality, they stayed for one month in an abandoned motel (the Dryland Lab of the MATZA project of Séverin Guelpa (see https://matza.net for more info) in the Mojave Desert in Amboy, California. Amboy is a ghost town; only four people are permanent residents of the town, probably due to the fact there is no running fresh water.
Drylab participants were allotted daily use of four gallons of water each, while also only consuming products that could be grown locally and that weren’t water intensive. This meant a completely vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and rice-free diet. Household chores, food, and common-pool water resources were divided up amongst participants, who had to figure out how to work together to survive in a house in the desert summer, with temperatures during the day reaching 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of participants had no cellphone service and access to the internet was also a limited, shared resource. After burning through half of the available internet data in the first two days of the experience, participants had to learn how to share not only their food, water, and air-conditioning, but also access to the outside world. It was a lesson in the commons, collective action, and the potential future of our society in the current trajectory.
Sarra Tekola /Nayara:
“My name is Sarra Tekola, I am a PhD student in Sustainability, I chose to join this project because I am interested in how to change this current culture into one that is more sustainable and equitable. Going into this project, I was interested in how we would handle water scarcity and a forced situation of the commons. While we wrote the storyline in the future, we acknowledged that this was the lived realities of many people today who are less privileged than we are. There were multiple problems we faced: the strict water rations, altered time-consuming diet, lack of internet and lack of leadership. The lack of leadership, or rather the 8-leader group, meant all problems regarding the commons required us all to gather to vote. While the non-hierarchical structure was an inspiring goal to work towards, not everyone wanted to be a leader and this created some tension within the commons, since those that did not do as much caused others to step up, and those without opinions caused delays or ties in votes. Another interesting issue that came up was how we managed to create a microcosm of society, by reverting back to the private property model. Originally the water rations were two gallons of personal water (for your own drinking) and two in communal water (for showering, laundry, cooking, etc). On the very first day the idea was brought up that it should be three gallons of personal water and one for communal, the only water we would share would be for cooking and cleaning dishes. We decided, without a vote, to switch to this way without even thinking about the societal implications. However, when it was brought up what had happened unconsciously people were not interested in going back. What this taught me is that as climate change gets worse, and causes scarcity, we are less likely to see people behave communally and share the commons. It was, however, easier for people to shift their individual actions to conserve water, like by taking fewer showers. Perhaps that is the type of behavior people will move towards when faced with scarcity in the future.”
Molly Koehn / Moso:
“My name is Molly and I just finished my Masters in Fine Arts at ASU. Even though this was project based around water scarcity, water use wasn’t the most difficult part. I found it was navigating time and space in a shared setting. Developing systems of which to live by among four artists and four scientists, eight different and unique women, was a challenge. It took patience. It took understanding. And it took sacrifice. But that’s what a community is, and you have think communally in order to survive, especially in this fictitious but highly possible future. Even though I thought I could work well with others, I found it difficult. To be living in an individualistic society, and myself being extremely independent, it took me a while to make that switch, to not just think of myself. At first, I only thought communally in certain situations, but would turn to my individual in others, without really recognizing it, which I think caused problems for myself and for others. But when I began to realize what I was doing, my thinking shifted. In these situations, it is imperative to be aware of others. It is important to be a community in the true sense of one, and that’s how we’ll survive the future. Putting yourself individual aside for the greater good.”
Sydney Rood/ Kirsten:
“My name is Sydney Rood and I recently graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and will be beginning my Masters Degree in this fall in Community Resources and Development with an emphasis in Sustainable Communities. My interests surround community structure, the built environment, and how sustainable behavior can create healthy and happy communities. When I was preparing for Drylab, I knew the process would be difficult, but I also realized that I would be immersing myself in an experience that many in the world currently live in and is a possible future scenario in the westernized world if we continue to use water so freely. However, being away from home, my family, and my friends, I knew I would struggle with happiness. This sparked my interest in how sustainable behavior can sometimes be in direct conflict with happiness. This is usually because society tells us that “more” is better. More money, more stuff, and more resources will make you happy. During my month in the desert, I wanted to see how living under these sustainable, yet extreme conditions for what we were used to, would affect our happiness. What was surprising to me and some of the other participants that I interviewed was that the water limit did not seem to affect us as much as the community dynamics and relationships between participants. Navigating new personalities and realigning ourselves in order to truly think of one another and become a unit took time, patience, understanding, and really not thinking of yourself first. It at times was truly mentally and emotionally exhausting, but I learned so much. As a whole I concluded that yes, happiness can coexist freely and happily with sustainable practices, but it takes removing yourself from the pressures of society either physically or mentally, in order to understand or see it.”
Willa Gibbs / Saf:
“The others have spoken on the importance of water, and the realizations that came with close communal living. I have a BA in anthropology and the most remarkable thing I noticed was the liminality of the place, the people, and the experience. Liminality is the state of being between and is very important in the anthropological study of ritual and thresholds. The eight women involved were all people who could spent a whole month away from their friends, family, home, and comforts. Between jobs, between schools, between places, we were all able to pick up our lives, then drop back into them, changed just a little, one month later. Even the place we were in was called “The ghost town that ain’t dead yet,” a half-town on a long road between larger towns, a step sideways out of time. One necessary aspect of liminal places and experiences, is that people can’t remain in them, and once they leave, they are always changed. Liminal experiences are for people to learn from and they form a threshold for personal evolution and change. I think that is something we all experienced, the specifics dependent on each individual woman.”