Review: As the drought worsens, nine Los Angeles artists think of water


The small, unassuming wall relief at the entrance to “Confluence,” a modest but timely exhibit at Track 16 on the subject of water issues related to the Los Angeles River, proves emblematic of what follows.

For “LA River Paper,” artist Emma Robbins gathered light fragments of tangled seaweed, leaves, and bird material in the water, then stitched the fuzzy pieces with reddish thread into a shaped sheet. irregular. It is a handmade paper that merges natural formation and artistic intervention – a confluence, in other words. The word describes both the general process of joining separate things together and – notably – the specific joining of two rivers.

What is the other river that runs in Robbins’ “LA River Paper”? A captivating video by AnMarie Mendoza suggests a provocative answer: a river of humanity.

Emma Robbins, “LA River Paper,” 2018; seaweed, leaves, bird material, thread

(Sean Meredith / Track 16)

“The Aqueduct Between Us,” a 39-minute oral history, features images of water around the city, including natural streams; the concrete flood control channel that runs from the San Fernando Valley to the sea; the elegant fountains in front of the elegant Ministry of Water and Energy building, the 1965 downtown landmark designed in international corporate style by AC Martin and Associates that tops the list of great modern architecture; and sections of the century-old engineering marvel that is the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Sewn together, they represent the essential liquid base for human existence in the city.

And, not so incidentally, for slow ruin.

Almost the entire state of California is now classified as experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional aridity, the three worst levels listed by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. We’re not just in a drought, we’re in a mega-drought.

The water footage in the video is interspersed with short, concise interviews with many indigenous residents, mainly Tongva and Paiute. “Water is life,” they repeat – a simple, undying chorus that rings out against more than two decades of drought in Southern California that are steadily preparing for epic disaster. In Mendoza’s wonderfully incisive video (also available at Youtube) the near-invisibility of indigenous peoples today in a place where genocide was launched more than 175 years ago merges with the typical low-key of critical water issues into the daily consciousness of city dwellers.

“Confluence” has been skillfully curated by artist Debra Scacco, whose contribution is an ink and water drawing. Its abstract, marbled linearity is composed of an interaction with the wind, which moved liquid materials across the sheet until they dried. Like Robbins’ article, it is one of many works that revolve around interrelated actions between the artist and natural forces.

Installation view of photographs, video and a suspended sculpture.

Installation view of “Confluence” with water related works by Lane Barden, AnMarie Mendoza and Blue McRight

(Sean Meredith / Track 16)

Lauren Bon takes a somewhat similar approach in a composition formed from a puddle of rainwater evaporated onto a sheet of black foil. The whitish residue leaves a mottled imprint. The circular, mottled markings evoke a map of the sky – vaguely, the place where the rain comes from.

Bridget DeLee’s “InBetween” also crosses territories. Suspended horizontally from the ceiling, the base of a palm leaf (called a crown) is perforated by long braids of black synthetic hair, which are held in place by wooden pony beads. The fashionable sprigs support a second leaf hanging below the first, then cascade across it to the ground. The leaves and braids create an intersection of crowns, one natural and the other culturally produced.

Kori Newkirk, one of two men out of the show’s nine performers, dipped super-absorbent polymer beads, the type used in vases to keep flower arrangements from wilting, in river water, then spread them in a thin layer on a clear vinyl sheet spread on the floor. Moisture slowly evaporates from the pearls as the show goes on, leaving intertwined bits of shifting sediment behind – a Pollock drip painting made by the river, so to speak.

In Newkirk’s floor piece, the color seems to have escaped from the polymer beads as they dry. Elsewhere, a general absence of color marks these works which rely on neutral tones. Absence is itself a residue, the remnant of an established tradition that has set aside the irrational pleasures of color to signify seriousness in art since Conceptualism rose to prominence in the 1970s. .

Fragments of color find themselves entangled in the materials of Blue McRight’s “Night Dive,” a suspended assemblage of ropes, pulleys, a large metal hook, and incongruous plastic netting and woven scrunchies in decorative tiers. It’s like sculptural salvage work after trawling through a mud of ocean trash – festive streamers salvaged from trash.

A hanging sculpture made of palm leaves, synthetic hair and wooden beads.

Bridget DeLee, “In-between”, 2021; palm wreath, synthetic hair, wooden beads

(Sean Meredith / Track 16)

And color is, of course, an integral part of Lane Barden’s fascinating grids of documentary aerial photographs, which look like they were taken from a drone. Its pair of grids begins top left with a bright green sports field in the San Fernando Valley and, frame by frame, follows the circuitous urban path of the contested river through four dozen aerial images, which eventually flow into in the cerulean Pacific Ocean below. right.

The main exception, however, is Alicia Piller’s lovely ‘Extinctions’, a sculpture whose palette of red, white and blue is clearly not accidental. The central element is a toy-like wooden rifle wedged vertically through the gaping skeletal jaw of a shark. Layered bands of vinyl and leather drape from the top, which is roughly the height of a standing person, gathering in turbulent swirls around the bottom. The textiles, studded with human teeth and flaccid balloons, are embalmed in a transparent, shimmering resin that holds everything in place.

Piller works from material accumulations of scrap, and his composition oscillates between microscopic and macroscopic in a way that vaguely recalls the work of Elliott Hundley. The rifle, ostensibly described in the item’s materials list as Colonial-style, evokes the Native American genocide; shark’s jaw ricochets off the continuing annihilation of the oceans, with more than a quarter of these fish currently at risk of eradication, according to the World Wildlife Fund. As Los Angeles goes through its driest 23-year period in 1,200 years, the sculpture is a disconcerting festive pole that is both stark and sad.

All is not lost. Putting the title of the sculpture, “Extinctions”, in the plural adds a sickly touch of future continuity. As they say, the Earth doesn’t care much about climate change, because it will just get rid of humanity and move on. Damn the mega-drought.

A work of art, spread on a floor, which uses absorbent polymer, river water and vinyl.

Kori Newkirk, “DTR”, 2022, super absorbent polymer, river water, vinyl

(Sean Meredith / Track 16)


Where: Runway 16, 1206 Maple Ave., #1005, Los Angeles, CA 90015
When: Wednesday to Saturday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment. Closed Sunday to Tuesday.
Information: (310) 815-8080,


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