You must be careful not to hit your head when entering Antonia Wright’s exhibition at Luis De Jesus gallery in Los Angeles.
During the day, the gallery is almost completely dark and filled with rectangular hanging planters suspended at a face-smacking height. Each is host to small, living trees that give off a fresh, piney smell. Illumination reminiscent of moonlight emanates from a video projected in the rear gallery, where the miniature forest continues. It feels as if we have been transported to some magical, subterranean space.
The planters are like little islands, an impression that solidifies when you reach the video on the back wall. It depicts a wide expanse of desolate, frozen lake. In the center stands the artist, dressed in a costume designed to look like flames. Bright, billowy skeins of yellow and orange fabric swirl around her body leaving only her face exposed. She is walking slowly toward us. As she comes closer, she suddenly falls into the ice, bobs a bit, then sinks from view.
The piece was inspired by an actual fall into a frozen reservoir that Wright experienced as a teenager. I imagine the hanging forest is an attempt to translate that feeling of being submerged, of going below. Indeed, the show itself is designed as an inversion: The gallery remains dark during the day and is illuminated at night.
The work’s title, “Under the water was sand, then rocks, miles of rocks, then fire,” invokes Earth’s layers. Wright’s appearance as “fire” atop the lake inverts this order, although her disappearance at the end of the video suggests the ultimate futility of this audacity. Perhaps that’s all life is: a brief flame that eventually returns to the core.
Luis De Jesus, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Through Feb. 11; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 838-6000, www.luisdejesus.com