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Absent suns, blue tarp pools, and cigarette-smoking tree stumps: these are but a few of the gestures in Made in L.A.’s third rendition that acknowledge collective anxiety. From Charles Long’s visually bombastic installation of an anthropomorphized forest to Jade Gordon and Megan Whitmarsh’s feminist spiritual practice-cumcollaborative art project, many of the artists selected for the exhibition use their artworks as sites of projection to address both interior emotions and growing political fears.
In an easily-overlooked, small corner gallery, James Benning’s multimedia installation, Found Fragments (all works 2016), uses nature as a starting point for conversations about U.S. history and politics. In scorched earth, for instance, Benning documents embers burning out in the remnants of a massive forest fire, a powerful moving image which, like the forest’s reconstruction— or perhaps the aftermath of trauma— moves so slowly it appears almost stagnant.
In stark contrast to Benning’s mournful, slow-burning landscape, Suné Woods’ immersive and fastpaced video installation Aragonite Stars (2018) posits water, a common symbol of rebirth, as a potential antidote to feelings of unrest (some of the water sites in the film are known to be used for healing purposes). Woods’ installation consists of projected moving images that nestle and span across crudely assembled tarps that line the gallery walls. The main video depicts a plethora of human bodies intermingling with each other in a spirit of joyful renewal, a refusal of the pain which lead the figures in pursuit of healing waters.
This feeling of delight continues, albeit in a more serene state, in Luchita Hurtado’s paintings, primarily done in the late 1960s to ’70s, wherein the artist depicts her own body as a landscape in a gesture she calls an “affirmation of self.” During this stage of her career, Hurtado shifted her practice from abstraction to figuration partly as a response to social movements such as women’s liberation and environmental activism. Now, with the accomplishments of both these movements under renewed scrutiny, the works (although made almost 60 years ago) appear strikingly relevant.
Artists Neha Choksi and Charles Long similarly use nature symbolically, as a response to interior states of being. In one storyline of Choski’s multichannel video installation Everything sunbright (2018), dancer Alice Cummins slowly tears at a mural of a sunset in which the sun itself has been omitted, replaced by a vast black semi-circle—the removal of such a vital life source alludes to the acceptance of absence, change, and even mortality. By comparison, Long’s installation, paradigm lost (2018), seeks to rectify the collective trauma of climate change and historical patriarchy with tragicomic depictions of tree stumps that resemble a collection of severed human penises.
With current political turmoil reaching fever-pitch levels, a feeling of precariousness ripples throughout Made in L.A. 2018, a sense that everything we have previously presupposed could suddenly be at risk. While the individual responses present are as varied as reactions to trauma, what remains consistent is a sense that while the past can never entirely leave us, we must find a way to move forward—from a place of collective fear to one of communal healing.
Originally published in Carla issue 13.