Reflections on Our Warming Planet
Lois Lambert Gallery, Santa Monica
Through September 3, 2022
Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
It has been sixty plus years since Rachel Carson warned us of imminent ecological disaster in the iconic text Silent Spring, and twenty years since Al Gore’s much criticized and ridiculed tersely titled documentary An Inconvenient Truth laid out the cataclysmic consequences of global warming on our shared planet. With catastrophic wildfires, searing triple-digit temperatures, hundred-year floods every few years, monster slow-moving hurricanes and cyclones, we are seeing the effects of global dimming and climate change in the news every single night. The economic and human cost in loss of property and life is staggering.
The twenty-four outstanding artists (too many to discuss all in depth,) whose work is included in this trenchant exhibit entitled Reflections on Our Warming Planet, curated and conceived by Lucinda Luvaas, communicate the impending disaster with deeply felt passion, creativity and profound concern. Each artist generally has more than one piece in the show, which allows the viewer a greater understanding of their intention and aesthetics. Paradoxically, the message these superb artists offer is often blindingly beautiful as though offering both a prayer and a warning, providing the viewer with just a glimmer of hope.
The Greeks thought the world was comprised of the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Air: each painting, photograph, drawing or print shown here also fits into at least one category. The dangers to the air we breathe was evident as early as 1905, when Dr. Des Voeux coined the term “smog” (a combination of smoke and fog) while discussing the harmful effects of industrialization at a Public Health Congress in London.
For over twenty years conceptual artist Kim Abeles has sought to make the invisible visible (the purpose of art according to Paul Klee) by using particles found in the air as her medium. For the Silhouettes in Smog smog (particulate matter) on handmade paper made with junk mail, Abeles coats the paper made from her collection of junk mail (also a statement about waste and trees) then puts a stencil on the surface. She leaves the works outside for days allowing the accretion of all the dirt, soot and unseen chemicals that we are breathing to accumulate on the surface. When she removes the stencil, the covered areas are pristine, creating the image, while the exposed parts are pale to dark gray. One can only imagine what our lungs look like! Her series Deck Chair on the Titanic, smog (particulate matter) porcelain, roof shingles on wood and Deck Chair on the Titanic I, II, and V,” smog (particulate matter), smoke/ash, on European Beechwood, are examples of her profound ideation and research. The smoke is from the ash-filled air of the devastating 2020 Bobcat Fire. But it is her brilliant use of the humble deck chair (made of Beechwood as were the originals on the Titanic) where wealthy guests leisurely sat watching the exquisite Arctic seascape unfold blissfully unaware of their impending doom that chillingly reminds us of our own complacency to our planet’s destruction.
Fire as subject matter is present in many works here, as both a destructive and constructive force of nature. Sant Khalsa’s conceptually elegant and elegiac mixed-media sculptures entitled Trees and Seedlings I-X, gelatin silver film, poplar wood and glass, create rich narratives where trees are spectral images, blackened by fire. Each photograph printed on glass is embedded in wood planks that reference both lumber leaning against the wall and celebrates the life cycle of the forest (which benefits from fires creating space for new growth.) Trees are called the lungs of the earth as they provide oxygen and air conditioning for the earth. Scientists are just now understanding how trees interact with one another, share nutrients and create symbiotic relationships. Khalsa’s work reads as a chilling cautionary tale where in the future all the trees will be but a memory in a tree museum.
Fire as a purely destructive conflagration is the subject of Merrilyn Duzy’s oil painting “Night Fire,” an image of a blaze so intense it is almost unbearable to view as one must surely look away. Even fiery sunsets evoke wildfires as in Margaret Lazzari’s Sentinels, acrylic on canvas. A mysterious dark brooding shape of a rock emerges out of the sea, standing like a guardian of the earth engulfed by the sky which is lit up like a bonfire. This evocative image suggests flaming volcanic lava eruptions and bits and pieces like embers appear floating on the surface as if a reflection on the ocean’s surface.
While our planet is a watery place, with over 70 percent of the surface covered by water, only 3 percent is fresh water with about 2.5 percent of the fresh water locked up in glaciers or underground. Farmers’ dependence on water for agriculture and their protests over government regulations is the subject matter of J.J. L’Heureux’s memorable photo light jet prints, Water 6, Water 13, Water 2, Water 9, which are reminiscent of the iconic photo documentation from the Great Depression. L’Heureux gives voice to these farmers’ pain and frustration by capturing their handmade protest signs painted onto decrepit and abject structures in a starkly desolate landscape.
The LA River, sometimes just a stream, makes an appearance in Marianne Sadowski’s poetic mixed media on mulberry paper, entitled A River of Bottle. Almost totally abstract, the delicate hues disguise the transparent barely visible plastic water bottles which nestle between rocks and sadly become permanent features of the river bottom walked on by birds. This urban river makes an appearance in Fatemeh Burnes’ L.A. River oil, handmade paper, pigment on wood panel. The murky river water is filled with indescribable cubistic clutter sucking the viewer into a vortex like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Forests also figure prominently in Burnes’ psychological landscapes. Barcode and Nest are two that have a tangled thicket of branch limbs roughly carved into the wood substrate creating a claustrophobic environment that fills the observer with anxiety and dread. There is no exit for those ghostly humans and bird imprisoned in the center of this nightmarish hell.
In her oil painting entitled Interior, Marina Moevs explores the aftermath of real or imagined apocalyptic events, where to quote Heidegger “the dreadful has already happened.” Moevs’ eerily uninhabited living room is reminiscent of Edward’s Hopper’s light filled rooms, until one notices the overturned lamp and the missing roof. It is reminiscent of the 1959 film classic On the Beach, where Australia is the last place that humans are alive after a WWIII nuclear war. Invisible radiation floating over the oceans has decimated the population leaving the streets, cars, restaurants and yes, living rooms totally intact but creepily empty, curtains flapping lazily in the deadly breeze.
But all is not gloom and doom, a group of artists here revel in the beauty of the natural environment, reminding the viewer what is at stake. Hung Viet Nguyen sculpts a lush landscape out of paint with his stunning resolutely vertical Sacred Landscape IV #19, oil on wood panel. This image celebrates the abundance of the natural world with its glittering waterfalls snaking through dense verdant vegetation and gently rounded hills creating a divine sanctuary – a paradise here on earth. Although depictions of people are generally absent, Lucinda Luvaas’ Embrace, oil pigment stick on Arches oil paper, and Forest Dreamer, oil pigment stick on Arches oil paper situate a female figure amidst a stunningly lush forest in homage to Henri Rousseau’s iconic The Dream. Luvaas’ image, like Rousseau’s, shows a magical green space, which is a veritable peaceable kingdom with human and animals in total harmony. It is a wish, a prayer and an agenda. Luvaas has assembled not only visual artists but filmmakers (as she is as well) and scientists to educate the public in the hopes of inspiring political action and social engagement. No one should miss this timely, noble, and beautifully wrought exhibit. In the words of Joni Mitchell:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise put up a parking lot