Environmentally Inspiring Painterly Photographs and Mixed Media
Written by Genie Davis
Luciana Abait recently focuses on photography and video creating her painterly images, but using these mediums is relatively new for her. In fact, her first photo-based work began in the 2000s after incorporating elements of mixed media into her painted works.
Since her initial series, Underwater she’s explored the different elements that make up our environment: water, vegetation, air (and clouds) and now icebergs, water in its frozen state.
Abait has always been intrigued by the way human civilization invades and tries to contain nature. “That was the origin of Underwater Series, exploring how mankind contains water with the architectural constructions of swimming pools. All the other series that have followed share the same fascination and questions of who is adapting to whom. Is the natural world adapting to the built environment or is human civilization adapting to nature?” she asks.
Her commitment to the environment and awareness of climate change presently inspires her work, arising in part from a move to Los Angeles in 2005. “This city’s commitment to environmental issues made me extremely aware of the danger that the future of mankind is going through, and the responsibility I have as an artist who is already working with climate change issues, to transmit this message to the public,” she attests.
Her current work is photo-based, two- and three- dimensional in both photo-sculptures and installations. “This year I have had the opportunity to expand my work and present time-based pieces as well. One of my main aspirations is to create magical and surreal experiences in which spectators are transported into a different world or reality. I use all different media in order to achieve this.”
Most recently, Abait did just this as an exhibiting artist DTLA’s evening LUMINEX installations, where she created a dazzling blue, immersive image of a waterfall. It was the most interactive of the jubilant video art on display, and one of the most magical of the exhibition. Viewers came to “stand under” the waterfall and snap selfies there, as if they were playing in a cascade of water. Abait came to be a part of the exhibition after an introduction to NowArt LA Foundation – the creators of LUMINEX – by the curator and director of Building Bridges Art Exchange Marisa Caichiolo, also a board member of NowArtLA.
She has been working with the theme of water for 20 years. “Agua,” her LUMINEX project is the natural evolution of years of research, documentation, creation, artwork production and hard work, the artist explains. “For the last few years, I have been focusing on creating public art projects that the whole community can experience…last year, when all cultural institutions closed during the California lockdown, I felt that it was so important to be part of projects where I could share my work with an audience in the outdoors and help them experience a moment of relief and wonder.”
Her vision met this goal evocatively. “Art is so powerful, and it can change people’s minds and hearts,” she says. “‘Agua’ is based on the flood myth, and it deals with the concepts of healing and rebirth. After a year of global loss and mourning, LUMINEX founder and curator Carmen Zella and myself felt that this was exactly what ‘Agua’ could convey to the community.”
And then the magic of the evening’s video projection happened. “People were surprised by the monumentality and illusion of water falling over the wall of a real building. Everybody was laughing, dancing, twirling. There was so much love and joy. Many people who visited the installation told me ‘We needed this so much.’ I am so thankful and honored that I was able to create an immersive experience, at such a grand scale, in the city of Los Angeles, free for all the community to enjoy, and that it brought so much needed happiness. It has been a dream come true.”
Along with this recent experiential triumph, Abait is currently exhibiting her Iceberg Series A Letter to the Future at LAX Terminal 7. In it, she uses surreal, photo-based manipulated landscapes. These “stem from my own experience as an immigrant and represent myself as a wanderer – shifting between oceans and continents. I created the frosty landscapes of imaginary icebergs by combining photographs I had taken of California mountain ranges with found images from encyclopedia and textbooks,” she says.
Abait then added another element to these layered works. “Within these inhospitable terrains, I inserted manmade objects, such as a Ferris wheel or a billboard, producing an eerie atmosphere. The presence of these out-of-place objects suggests issues of adaptation, assimilation, isolation and displacement, and serves as a reflection on the aggressive intrusion of humans on the natural world and how the effects are far reaching, impacting the most vulnerable in particular.”
While the images were installed just prior to the lockdown, visiting them in 2021, they “represent every single human on the planet earth who has gone through isolation and confinement. The vast oceans and dark skies can easily symbolize our homes or rooms in the last year, while the colorful surreal skies talk about a world that we no longer know,” Abait explains. “A Letter to the Future presents a vast universe where all humans are immigrants in an unknown new world still challenged by the precarious state of our beautiful environment.”
The exhibition will be available for viewing in until June. Located after the security point, the exhibition can be visited by appointment; viewers who wish to do so should email Abait at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abait is a resident artist at the 18th Street Arts Center, which she calls a “sacred space where I can have absolute freedom to dream.” Guided in part with a resident artist workshop by Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, it was here that Abeit began to conceive her Iceberg series. She also created an artist book drift collaboratively with fellow resident Debra Disman; this work is now exhibited at Recovery Justice: Being Well at the Art Center’s Airport Campus. Also during 2020’s lockdown, Abait installed two of her work “Peak 1” and “Peak II” outside the 18th Street complex main office building for the Durden and Ray drive by public art exhibition, We Are Here/Here We Are last summer.
The lockdown was fertile territory for Abait artistically. Projected outdoors in Culver City, she also created Road Trip, a video art installation comprised of 24 still images, projected on a loop. The result is what she calls “a fantasy narrative through surreal landscapes based on photographs that I took on a recent road trip through the American West in order to clear her eyes, mind and soul after months of isolation due to the California lockdowns.”
The altered landscapes here “eerily portray distortions that begin to feel like a trippy science fiction film and take the viewer on an out-of-this-world, supernatural voyage that enables them to get lost, find a sense of possibility and of freedom.” Shot in Utah, Arizona, and California in December 2020, the varied and surreal landscape allowed her to create narrative structure even as she took her photographs. They were exhibited by the Culver Arts Foundation for their Projecting Possibilities exhibition, in a time-based form.
The pandemic has definitely altered Abait’s work overall, she says. “I have focused on creating beautiful poetic and dreamy landscapes, because I needed my mind to focus on beauty and on the bright side of the world. I want to inspire the public to take positive actions and engage in optimistic reflection through contemplation. It has been my goal that my works bring a moment of respite and calm to the chaos and uncertainty that we are immersed in.”
With that in mind, she is currently creating a large-scale photograph from her series Displacement to be exhibited outdoors at the 18th Street Art Center Airport Campus. This project is also part of Recovery Justice: Being Well, a series of self-organized artist projects facilitated by Sara Daleiden and produced by the center. She plans to continue developing environmental themes and their relationship to immigration throughout upcoming work.
“I am extremely interested in developing more experiential installations and video projections. In terms of upcoming exhibitions, I will be part of ULTRA! At Torrance Art Museum during the summer of 2021. I have also been selected to develop a project with the City of Santa Monica for its Art of Recovery Program, which deals with inclusion and creating a site of memory.”
There is no doubt that it will be memorable indeed.