The Gila River Project


The Gila River Project investigates one of America’s most endangered ecosystems. The 649-mile Gila River flows through New Mexico and Arizona encompassing a watershed area of 64,000 square miles. Named as America’s most endangered river in 2019, it persists despite the severe threats of climate change, the demands of ranching, agriculture, mining, and recreational operations. Seen as a complex and dynamic system The Gila River Project aspires to illuminate the roles of environmental and human adaptation that shape the river’s future. The L&J Ranch Mobile Lab serves as a base for this epic investigation.




Seen as a complex and therefore dynamic system, the Gila River Project aspires to illuminate the role of eco-plasticity in relation to environmental and human co-adaptation. The term eco-plasticity was developed through the art and science collaboration represented by Joel Slayton and Lisa Johanson. The ongoing ambition is to develop a series of land-use and sense-of-place artworks that illuminate the role of eco-plasticity as it relates to an ecology responding to competing forces. By exploring the layered relationships between the natural and artificial challenges, we hope to better understand the destiny of a particular ecology.


The Gila River Project is conceptualized to involve expeditions that will take place in 2022-2023. Nine regions along the 600+ miles of the river from its origin in the Gila Wilderness in NM to its junction with the Colorado River in Yuma, AZ define the central themes of the project. Expeditions focus on revealing the complex and adaptive eco-plasticity that determines the rivers path in a changing landscape. A medallion will be installed at a significant site-specific location that represents the focus in each region. Collectively the Medallions map the Gila River Project.

Why the Gila River System?

One of the endangered River ecologies in North America.
A looming ecological crises in an environment where Water is everything.
Historic and culturally significant environment.
Harbinger of the implications of climate change.
Represents the challenge of how best to manage a vital resource.
A context of contested perspectives, agendas, and politics.