“Ignite! The Art of Sustainability”

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)
490 East Union Street
August 11, 2013–January 5, 2014

Kim Abeles, Watching Waiting (detail), 2012, ultrachrome digital print and DVD monitors, 8 x 12’.

From its organizing principle of putting artists in dialogue with scientists and environmentalists down to the reused shipping crates that were used to transport the pieces on view, this traveling exhibition takes a thoughtful and holistic approach to art that deals with the environment. Curated by Kate Davies, “Ignite!” grew out of discussions between the Green Museums Initiative and the Committee of the California Association of Museums; from there, seven of the thirteen participating artists took part in regional conversations prior to making work. The depth and breadth of the show reflect the complexity of environmental issues in these dialogues.

The art on view could be loosely divided into two camps—some works directly engage with local environments, while others take a more visual approach. Daniel McCormick’s restorative sculptures—made from and for specific local ecologies—address nature by reversing damage caused by things such as soil erosion after cattle grazing. Created out of silt and local plants and installed in Olema Creek, California, the sculptural supports in Watershed Sculptures, 2012, will eventually fall away as the plants grow and the riverbed is repaired. Also engaged with the environment, Robert Dawson’s photographic documentation of individual initiatives to improve local communities, a project he began in 1996 and revisits here, highlights activists and public revitalization efforts. Other featured artists use rendered imagery to invite contemplation; Luke Matjas’s large drawings depict plants and animals from different regions colliding in a multihued dystopia, while Penelope Gottlieb’s delicate paintings of birds’ strangulation by vines, made on illustrations from Audubon prints, are poetic and thought-provoking.

Throughout, “Ignite!” acknowledges the interdependence of our ecosystem and our own need for authentic connection—with one another and with the environment. Judith Lowry’s vibrant allegorical paintings are informed by Native American storytelling, while Sant Khalsa’s ruminative photographs of the Santa Ana River, taken patiently over time, foreground our relationship with water. A ghostly image of animals and handmade book by Ann Savageau, chronicling the loss of animal life in the Central Valley, and haunting video footage of children’s eyes peering through photographic panels of lichen in Kim Abeles’s installation, echo a sad beauty evident in art through the ages that humanizes the too-familiar chaos of man-made disasters.

— Annie Buckley