November 21, 2022
This week we recognize Kim Abeles, based in Los Angeles, and her thirty plus year practice addressing ecological issues.
"I created the first Smog Collector in 1987 while working on artworks about the "invisible" San Gabriel Mountains, obscured by the smog as I looked from my studio fire escape in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1980s it was common to hear people insist that it was fog, not smog, that filled the air. The Smog Collectors are presented in several series, including the Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates, all the presidents from McKinley to Bush with their portraits in smog and their quotes about the environment or industry hand-painted in gold around the rims. I left them out on the roof longer, depending on their environmental records." click images for more info
In 1995, using trash picked up from Los Angeles beaches, Abeles created a sculpture depicting a dolphin, which was designed to tour schools to help children understand the effects of throwing trash into storm drains. Entitled Run-off Dolphin Suitcase, the portable sculpture put the ethic of pollution prevention, and the value of preventing ocean pollution into vividly concrete terms. The familiarity of garbage run-off art stimulates an assessment of one's own complicity and how to prevent future "run-off" pollution in the ocean and, by implication, to protect all of our natural environment.
Women and Water (above) was originally created for the exhibition, (re-) cycles of Paradise in 2012, curated by ARTPORT_making waves, and first exhibited at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) in cooperation with swissnex San Francisco. The embedded videos are presented in pairs with the first in real time and for the second, one minute of footage is slowed to 6 hours. In some parts of the world, women spend as much as six hours a day carrying water to their communities. The journey's length for these courageous women to carry the heavy water containers is depicted in this artwork.
Cabinet of Wondering (below) brings together a wall covered with a large photograph of objects that I have collected over many years. Embedded in the wall are video monitors and cases for specimens on loan from the Natural History Museum of the University of Florida. Cabinet of Wondering expresses the urge to separate objects from their surroundings, and then bring them together on a shelf, in the box, in our imagination. Throughout human history, people have collected objects—specimens, spiritual talismans, souvenir pencils, family remembrances—in an effort to possess, reaffirm their existence, and to connect with the “natural world.”
"Citizen Seeds (below) 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." Alicia Vogl Saenz for ecoartspace blog, April 21, 2022.
Kim Abeles is an artist whose artworks explore biography, geography, feminism, and the environment. Her work speaks to society, science literacy, and civic engagement, creating projects with the California Science Center, health clinics and mental health departments, and the National Park Service. Her collaborations with air pollution control agencies involve images from the smog, and largescale projects with natural history museums in California, Colorado and Florida incorporate specimens ranging from lichen to nudibranchs. In 1987, she innovated a method to create images from the smog in the air, and Smog Collectors brought her work to national and international attention. National Endowment for the Arts funded two recent projects: as artist-in-residence at the Institute of Forest Genetics she focused on Resilience; and, Valises for Camp Ground: Arts, Corrections, and Fire Management in the Santa Monica Mountains were made in collaboration with Camp 13, a group of female prison inmates stationed in the Santa Monica Mountains who fight wildfires. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts, California Community Foundation and Pollack-Krasner Foundation. Her work is in forty public collections including MOCA, LACMA, Berkeley Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, California African American Museum, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Abeles’ process documents are archived at the Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art. www.kimabeles.com
Featured Images (top to bottom): ©Kim Abeles, Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates, 1992, smog (particulate matter) on porcelain plates; Run-off Dolphin Suitcase, 1995, beach trash/storm drain run-off, welded steel, satin, mixed media, 16 x 64 x 22 inches, Courtesy Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego; Women and Water, 2017(2012-ongoing), terəˈf3:mə, Orange Coast College, California. Photo Credit Kristine Schomaker; Cabinet of Wondering, 2014-2015, Technology & the Natural World, Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida; Citizen Seed, 2022, California State and Los Angeles County Parks, Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles, California. Commissioned by LA County Arts and Culture; Portrait of the artist by Joyce Kim for The New York Times, December 9, 2021.