Sure, if you arrived at Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2012 after seven last Thursday night, when the opening party ended, you had to lay down cash for your drinks. But outside, in the parking lot, the ice — actually the dry ice — was free. Thirty-seven tons of it, thanks to its implementation in a site-specific piece called Disappearing Environments.
The installation was a collaboration between artist Judy Chicago, known for her pioneering feminist work in the 1960s and 1970s, and Materials & Applications, a Silver Lake-based studio that combines notions architecture and art through experimentation.
As late afternoon gave way to dusk, as dusk gave way to night, steamy fog rose from a series of five-foot high pyramids built from blocks of the ice and lit by road flares to produce a seductive, elusive, ever-changing environment that enveloped fair attendees. Coinciding with the fair's opening bash, it became the instant must-post-on-Facebook-image, the art-fair-takeaway, the marker that you to had been there. But by the time the fair ended on Sunday, the piece had disintegrated. And that was the point.
“It's really pointing out that everything we build is vanishing before we eyes,” says Jenna Didier, Materials & Applications founder. The ziggurats — pyramids with steps — represent man's hubris and attempt at immortality, created from a material that cannot be stopped from dissolution.
Disappearing Environments itself has already disappeared twice before. It began more than forty years ago, in 1968 when Chicago teamed with artists artists Lloyd Hamrol and Eric Orr to produce the original installation in a then still-under-construction, Century City, in the shadow of a department store, creating a contrast between a minimalist piece and consumerism in America.
“Shoppers were the [original] audience,” says Didier. The artists “were taking a shot at consumerism, that consumerism validates our existence. And that's still the case…in our society forty years later.”
“It's a very abstract piece that you can enter into in a lot of ways,” asserts Glenn Phillips of the Getty Research Institute, which paid for the piece's reincarnation as part the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival, which continues this week.
“It's too much of a leap to say [Chicago] was trying to make the commercial environment go away,” says Phillips. Instead, he says, Chicago was trying to “soften it.”
Forty-four years later, however, the critique is not so “soft,” but more scathingly ironic, as Disappearing Environments was set just feet from a runway at the Santa Monica Airport where the Westside wealthy sequester their private jets. And it's not incidental that Disappearing Environments was reinvented right outside an art fair, a venue that's less about pressing forward in new art forms and more about the commoditization of art.
“They could have looked for a strip mall [but] something like an art fair is an interesting twist for today,” says Phillips.
Did the prospect of working with Chicago — who broke ground in the then male-dominated world of art — intimidate Didier? “Of course!” she responds. “Like Judy says, 'You find who's bullshit when you work with Judy Chicago.' If you're not showing up one hundred percent, she's going to call you on it.”
As for the dry ice itself? “Oh gosh, that was challenging,” says Didier. “It's very heavy. It will burn you — it's so cold. And if you're trying to build with it, it will change shape.”
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