Collaborate and Create at Loft at Liz’s

Jane Szabo _ Jill Sykes (1)
Jane Szabo and Jill Sykes, Collaborate and Create, Loft at Liz’s; Photo credit Kristine Schomaker

Collaborate and Create, Curated by Andi Campognone

Loft at Liz’s, Los Angeles
through March 3

Collaboration is the ultimate humanizing activity.”  ~June Wayne, American visual artist
Every collaboration helps you grow.” ~Brian Eno, British musician
I believe change can only come through collaboration.” ~Alain de Botton, British philosopher

Written by Betty Ann Brown
Collaborate and Create, an exhibition curated by the inimitable Andi Campognone, features collaborations by seventeen pairs of artists. They are, in no particular order: Alex Couwenberg & Lisa Schulte, Joy Ray & Dianna Stevens Woolley, Terry Cervantes & Marthe Aponte, Samuelle Richardson & Catherine Ruane, Vicki Walsh & Jim Daichendt, Margo Ray & Scott Yoell, Jane Szabo & Jill Sykes, Annie Seaton & Laurie Sumiye, Dani Dodge & Chelsea Dean, Snezana Saraswati Petrovic & Chenhung Chen, Karen Hochman Brown & Ann Marie Rousseau, Randi Matushevitz & Debbie Korbel, Marisabel Bazan & Vojislav Radovanovic, Terry Arena & Chris O’Mahony, Bailey Ferguson & Michelle Schwengel-Regala, Jeanne Dunn & Edwin Vasquez, Stevie Love & Cudra Clover. The resultant works range from a subtle mandala inspiring quiet contemplation (Brown & Rousseau) to a carnivalesque protest of Facebook censorship (Matushevitz & Korbel).

I can’t discuss all of the works in this short essay, so I will limit myself to a few standouts that demonstrate the remarkable range of works resulting from the collaborations.

Walking up the stairs from Liz’s Antique Hardware to the gallery space on the second floor of the old La Brea building, viewers are confronted with Terry Arena & Chris O’Mahony’s wall hanging of woven wood and braided cord. The overall beige tone underscores the subtlety: it’s monochromatic, yes, but dense and layered like a broken basket splayed vertically, its mysterious contents obscured by twine wrapping. The scale is impressive–it’s over nine feet tall–as is the way the two artists seamlessly merged their two aesthetics. The title says it all: “Out of Many, One”, an English translation of our national motto, E pluribus unum. As we slide into impeachment week, the whole country kicking and screaming, that unity is under constant assault.

Around the corner stands a chalk white tree (created by Samuelle Richardson) holding a paper house covered with elegant drawings of branches and leaves (by Catherine Ruane). Together these artists ask viewers to consider the relationship between nature and culture. Are they inherently opposed (as many corporations would have us believe)? Or can these currently competing concerns be merged as gracefully as this aesthetic linkage between a sculptor and a drawer (draughtswoman?!)

Across the room is another large work that also seems to address the interaction of nature and culture. Marthe Aponte works in the traditional French folk art picote (meaning “marked with points” in French and is used to describe artworks of pierced paper.) Titled “The Creation of Sacred Entomology”, the work is based on a six-and-a-half foot tall sheet of heavy white paper that Aponte has covered with holes to imitate flowers and leaves. Buzzing around the ghostly blossoms is an army of insects: bees and beetles and moths and dragonflies created by Terry Cervantes. Of course, actual insects would not be drawn to paper flowers. But in art, the rules are suspended. And the Aponte-Cervantes collaboration is a reminder that, even as climate change threatens our very existence, we can join with other living things to flourish and survive. Perhaps it can become a sacred union.

Jeanne Dunn and Edwin Vasquez have created “The Birdhouse Where Nobody Lives”, a combination of painting, sculpture, and poetry. Vasquez, working with Dunne, composed a poem for the artwork.

THE BIRD HOUSE WHERE NOBODY LIVES

Everything is charred on the mountain—
the once-perfectly arranged pine needle clusters
and the large pinecones scattered on the ground,
hopeless, decomposing, waiting for what is to come.

Those beautiful trees, once full of life,
were once giant clusters of jade green;
now they stand still with broken, charred branches,
fragile like wires stripped thin.

I walk the once-friendly trails,
now draped with a thick carpet of dark grey ash—
my footprints resemble the first steps on the moon
since nobody has visited the now-desolate hills.

My body doesn’t want to continue the ascent,
but my mind is stronger and pushes me higher
to my favorite place at the top of the hill,
the bird house where nobody lives.

Vasquez’s references to decomposing pinecones, charred branches, grey ash, and desolate hills, as well as the absent bird of the title, remind us of both the recent wildfires here in California and those still raging over Australia. It is a tragic recollection–underscored by the blackened land and burnt birdhouse–of the losses of environmental devastation. But the sun rises beyond the charred hills, like a cosmic phoenix, eternally reborn in our hopes.

Hope resonates in Jane Szabo and Jill Sykes’ collaboration as well.
A photograph of icy blue forest, frozen into stillness, is animated by pink flowers blooming on fragile black branches. Even in the depths of winter (Szabo’s photograph), spring (Sykes’ flowers) is emerging.

I left the exhibition suffused with optimism. No matter how challenging, collaboration can result in creative growth. People willing to face the difficulties of putting their egos aside and working with others, will be rewarded by personal expansion and connection. Perhaps our country and our world are not yet lost. Perhaps there are enough people who, like the artists in this important exhibition, can work together, rather than in ongoing opposition.

The artists of Collaborate and Create are all alumni of the Kipaipai Workshops founded by Andi Campognone in 2016. First offered in Hawaii, the workshops are now given in California (Ojai and Joshua Tree), as well as New York. Among the many exercises designed to fortify artists’ sense of self and how to communicate that to others, are creative collaborations. And among the most robust outcomes is an enhanced sense of self in community. The strength of that creative community is certainly in evidence throughout this exhibition.

[Full disclosure: I have been honored to work at three of the Kipaipai Workshops and look forward to joining Andi Campognone and her crew again in Joshua Tree this summer.]

Loft at Liz’s
453 S. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, 90036

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