Cynthia Hooper’s passion for infrastructure is palpable. She is a self-described “infrastructure geek.” Trained as a painter, Hooper applies a formal aesthetic approach—emphasizing light and color—to her video work. The project we discussed is a collection of videos about water and the environment titled Anthropogenic Aquascapes that explores land use, frequently in politically charged landscapes.
In 2004, after noticing enormous tanker trucks passing her house daily, she became curious about their contents. Further examination revealed that the trucks were transporting contaminated water from a wastewater treatment plant to the nearby landfill at the rate of two tanker trucks per day. Hooper discovered that excess contaminated water was escaping from the unlined landfill and seeping under the nearby homes, including her own. This experience, which hit close to home, inspired her interest in the politics of water.
An enormous amount of research goes into each of her videos, and yet they are not exposés or even documentaries; they are quiet—almost silent—visual meditations on land use. But as with minimalist poetry, the images are deliberately arranged to allow for the most basic and individual properties of the infrastructure or waterway to disclose something unexpected. It seems that it would be impossible to achieve the deeply engaging, reductive quality of representation—where each shot is vital to the work as a whole—without having internalized the landscape beforehand.
In Jefferson’s Monuments, an eight-minute video featuring four controversial dams along Oregon’s Klamath River, the dams are as lovely as the hills behind them.
Hooper’s skill at framing the shots and weaving them together blends the natural and man-made into a cohesive landscape.
Although Hooper explained that those dams were the largest, and really the only, “monuments” in the “state” of Jefferson, her video does not romanticize the Old West. Rather, it portrays its subject matter as elements existing in the present. For more than a generation, the dams have modified both the material and cultural landscape of this region. Hooper has memorialized them as integral to the fabric, for better or worse, of the present-day ecology of the Klamath River Basin.
Hooper sees the videos as “anti-hyperbolic,” taking a significantly different approach from those artworks in which exaggeration is specifically calculated to grab people’s attention. Until quite recently, few contemporary artists were invested in visually representing infrastructure; its quotidian nature rarely captures much public interest. Hooper succeeds in making the systems as captivating for her audience as they are for her, and the wider public appears ready to reflect more deeply on the relationship and interplays between infrastructure and natural landscape. Hooper’s art reveals landscapes as complex processes—continuously unfolding.