Site 6, detail of Manzanita interior overlooking downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
Citizen Seeds: A Public Art Project by Kim Abeles
by Alicia Vogl Saenz
A crane slowly lifts Kim Abeles’ large sculpture of a Coast Live Oak seed into the October night sky. The full moon glows behind clouds, Los Angeles city lights sprawl out in a stunning view. Abeles, an installation crew, a truck driver, a photographer, a park ranger, a county public art manager, and me are at the top of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a California State Park and one of the sites of Abeles’ public art project Citizen Seeds. The park is surprisingly busy at night, especially groups of runners. I’m helping the ranger redirect people and answer questions so that Abeles and the crew won’t be interrupted. The crane arcs over the entrance to the trail, trees and bushes, then hovers over the concrete base dug into the ground to support the sculpture. Although the equipment is enormous, it is not noisy. I can hear rustles of wildlife and the din of cars below. The installation crew has set up bright lights so that the crane operator can precisely place the seed. The ground crew help with navigation, then secure the sculpture with adhesive. Once installed, this six-foot in length, ten-thousand-pound concrete Coast Live Oak seed appears to have randomly fallen next to the trail from an enormous tree. Kim Abeles is beaming with joy.
Installation at Site 5 of the Coast Live Oak seed.
Installation at Site 5 of the Coast Live Oak seed. The ground crew is navigating the sculpture placement. Nighttime Photos by Alicia Vogl Saenz.
Citizen Seeds is a series of six sculptures placed in various locations along three miles at the start of the Park to Playa trail. The sculptures are mixed media and portray six plants native to Southern California: Sugar Pine, California Black Oak, Coast Live Oak, Bladderpod, Black Walnut, and Manzanita. Abeles designed the seeds to have a visual presence from afar (sizes range from 6’ to 8’) and serve as a meeting place for trail users. The top of each seed appears to be split open, revealing a map and other design elements. Each map is fashioned in bronze, indicates its location on the trail, and includes the word “Here”. The sculptures then become wayfinding objects.
Detail of Site 5. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
“Here” also invites the viewer to slow down for a moment and take in the power of finding themselves immersed in nature while being in the center of urban Los Angeles. Walking has held a special space in Abeles’ artwork. She often walks, plotting areas and incorporates cityscape horizons to her projects and community or classroom workshops. Normally we pass by quickly in our cars. Walking offers participants a fresh viewpoint. Abeles writes in her description of Citizen Seeds: “When walking or stopping for a moment along a trail, we can imagine that there is no beginning or end, rather, a journey’s continuum.”
Interior of the Coast Live Oak seed at Site 5. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
Each seed is unique and features differing design elements. Abeles writes: “The seed interiors speak to the metaphors of personal growth, the journeys we share, and our relationship within nature.” For example, at site 3, located at Kenneth Hahn Park, cast concrete medallions surround the edge of the interior. The medallions were designed by community members in a workshop led by Abeles and are their symbols of growth and journey. The community artists’ names are included in a plaque next to the sculpture.
Site 3, Bladderpod seed. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
Site 4 is a California Black Oak seed and is located near the new La Cienega Pedestrian Bridge and the Stoneview Nature Center. Disks of local animal and bird tracks encircle the seed. Tracks made by squirrels, red tail hawks, coyotes, and other wildlife. A concrete relief blueprint of the nature center represents “tracks” left by humans. The first time I saw this seed, I ran my hands along the disks and imagined all the critters. The large scale of each seed made me imagine a bird’s eye or squirrel’s view of a seed. Or, even perhaps, a lizard’s perspective.
Site 4, California Black Oak seed. Image of interior and labeled details of each animal track. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
Citizen Seeds is an exemplary public art installation. It has many facets that serve the user. The practical—a meeting place, wayfinding, mapping. Aesthetic—the seeds and their interiors are gorgeous. Impart knowledge and inspire curiosity—Southern California native flora and fauna, community values. Reflection and mindfulness—reminder to slow down, and be “here”. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that creating memories with those we love, respecting human life, and being present in the now are essential to a well lived and joyful life. Interacting with Kim Abeles’ Citizen Seeds inspires me (and I hope you) to remember that simple acts like walking in nature and greeting those I pass—animal, plant, people—can make your day meaningful.
What simple act gives you joy?
Site 1, Sugar Pine. Photo by Ken Marchionno
Alicia Vogl Saenz is a poet, Manager of Family Programs at Los Angeles County Museum in California, meditation instructor, bread maker, yarn lover who brings her love of Los Angeles, mixed immigrant background (ecuaczech) and queer identity to her writing and teaching. She blogs at www.aliciabird.me