through March 22, 2019 Brand Library & Art Center, Glendale
Written by Eve Wood
The San Fernando Valley represents a complicated landscape, both literally and metaphorically. Literally, the valley is a hot and sprawling grid that is home to more than 1.7 million people, many of whom grew up in its arid ma and pa terrain. Metaphorically, the valley, or “over the hill” as many west-siders like to call it, represents an open-ended space that cannot be easily classified. With Valley Girl Redefined, curators, 11:11 A Creative Collective have gathered a group of twenty-three women artists, all of whom grew up in the valley, and recognize it as a living, thriving creative space, a landscape that they identify as central to their experience. Each of these women have a specific and undeniable relationship to this area, and their work reflects this unique sensibility as well as a truly authentic diversity.
Probably the most iconic “Valley Girl” in this line-up is Judy Baca. Taken by filmmaker Donna Deitch in 1975, these larger than life black and white photographs show Baca adopting the character of a “Pachuka,” or woman of color from Pacoima. Baca grimaces and glowers, taunts and jibes, blowing cigarette smoke into the camera lens, recreating a vibrant personal narrative based on her memories from high school.
Narratives encompass a wide range of ideas in this exhibition including stories about the physical landscape itself. Hilary Baker’s gorgeously rendered acrylic paintings of predatory animals are based upon her earliest memories of growing up in the hills of Studio City, surrounded by wildlife. Her “Casa De Cadillac” (2018) presents us with an image of a coyote strolling through the parking lot of a Cadillac dealership. The body of the coyote is painted in negative space as though the animal is slowly disappearing. Perhaps the negative space operates as a visual metaphor for our human encroachment into their territory, and the fact that these animals have had to adapt in ways unimaginable to us.
Many of the images here are simultaneously mysterious and unsettling as with Erin Stone’s enigmatic photograph entitled “Lifted” (2013). The image brings to mind alien abduction or a botched suicide, yet what makes it so powerfully unnerving is the fact we can only see this woman’s body from the waist down. Still other images are powerful in their ability to level the visual playing field as is the case with Monica Sandoval’s “Together Again,” (2016) an image reminiscent of Laura Aguilar’s groundbreaking self-portraits, yet in Sandoval’s photograph, the body of the woman appears lifeless against a man-made pastoral — a brick wall replete with foliage and strewn with flowers.
Much of the work in this exhibition is topographic and celebrates the landscape that is the “valley.” Kathi Flood’s etching/collage entitled “The End of Suburbia” (2017) is another richly playful evocation of the San Fernando Valley’s terrain, albeit skewed amid the rolling hills – a bit ironic given the fact the valley is so damn flat.
All in all, this exhibition represents a cross section of vibrant and culturally significant work made by twenty-three women whose vision is essential to our understanding of the ever enigmatic and illustrious “Valley.”
Valley Girl Redefined, Brand Library; Photo credit Kristine Schomaker