Rebecca Chernow: The Power of the #superbloom
through January 14th
Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana
By Evan Senn
Walking around the stone buildings and glass display windows of the many different businesses and venues of downtown Santa Ana, it’s easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the fantastic restaurants, vibrant culture, loud events and busy streets. But for the past few months, there has been one glimmer of peace and wonder that has been stopping people in their tracks. Every person who has been to the Arts District in Santa Ana since November has experienced a taste of the magic that artist Rebecca Chernow has created during her residency at Grand Central Art Center. Passersby’s halted their individual missions to bear witness to the awe-inspiring instance of the Santa Ana #superbloom.
Inspired by the beauty, power, and mortality of the natural phenomena of Southern California’s 2017 “Super Bloom,” Chernow has created her own version of the mesmerizing and colorful sprawl of wild flowers that covered the hilly terrain of the exhibition space at the front of the Art Center. As seen from the outside, viewers can imagine this space as endless, full of an orange hue from the created poppies that covere the ground and vibrate a magical glow from the false sunset cast on the walls of the space. Upon first viewing, this magical land seems real, the flowers are everywhere, the small green hills roll into the mythical horizon as the sun sets with the pink-orange and violet-blue hues that are a signature California trait.
Chernow has created this fictitious place in response to the real occurrence of the Super Bloom in the Spring of 2017, and the effects that humanity had on the fantastical natural event. Visitors to the Super Bloom in the Antelope Valley last Spring were so massive and constant, that they destroyed the land they had come to see. Although most of the visitors were more concerned with their social media posts documenting that they were there, the hoards held no care for the majesty of the wild flowers, and left a wake of destruction, negativity, garbage and pollution.
Just as many people litter the streets of urban cities and neighborhoods, leaving their waste for someone else to deal with, the visitors paid little attention to how they left the natural spaces in the Antelope Valley. Chernow used this sad state of reality as inspiration for her practice – dealing with environmental issues, gentrification, ephemera, and sustainable living – to try and rouse some awareness to our collective behavior as a species. Chernow is known for her multidisciplinary work that involves audience participation and embodies the leave-no-trace ethic by being able to disappear while paying tribute to the local environment that her work is sourced from. Having spent time in and around Santa Ana observing the behavior and communities of the area, she collected commonly discarded items, the classic green straws from Starbucks and the orange shopping bags from the Fallas department store. Using these items, Chernow created dozens of artificial poppy flowers to coat the fields she envisioned for this #superbloom installation.
Chernow invites visitors to interact with the #superbloom poppy field however they want. Of course, many people have ignored the request of the art center and of the artist, by trampling all over the artificial flowers for that perfect picture to post, reminding us all, yet again, just how little people care about their surroundings and of the intentions of others. However, as they wrap up the show and de-install the work, Chernow has arranged for this #superbloom to live on somewhere else. A nearby elementary school will be coming to visit the #superbloom and to talk to Chernow about the project, and they will take all of the remaining poppies with them to recreate their own #superbloom field back at their school.
Although it may be impossible to wake the masses from their technological coma and the mass hysteria of likes, clicks and shares, Chernow has found a way to raise awareness, to open up a discussion about the way we treat our surroundings, the beauty and majesty of nature, the endless possibilities of what art can be and do. Lastly, she has found a fascinating pathway to bring joy, sorrow and honesty together in the most visual inspiring way. Chernow’s #superbloom brought thousands of people to view, interact, and engage with an installation and a conversation about real issues, some without even knowing it. The lasting impact of #superbloom, its message and its beauty, much like the Antelope Valley Super Bloom, will be remembered in the minds of all who witnessed it for years to come.