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An artist's imposing new monument at Echo Park Lake honors Angelenos killed in violent crimes

The area around Echo Park Lake is known for its iconic sites. There is the lake itself, its exuberant fountain and the Art Deco statue on the north end that’s informally known as “The Lady of the Lake.” Now there is a new work of distinction: A monumental installation evoking a brutalist pergola by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles that pays tribute to the Angelenos killed in violent crimes over the course of 18 months.

The piece, titled “La Sombra (The Shade),” is part of the ongoing public art biennial, “Current: LA Water.” It’s as much an imposing piece of sculpture as it is something more ethereal.

“The piece is the shadow,” says Margolles, who was on-site at Echo Park Lake Thursday afternoon to oversee the etching of a text onto the side of her monument. “I made shade in an ardent summer.”

The installation is the result of a series of tasks the artist and a crew of helpers have undertaken in Los Angeles over the course of a year.

During that period, the team has visited sites around L.A. where individuals have been killed in violent crimes. And, in a sort of ritual cleansing, they poured water over these locations. That water was then retrieved and stored in a bottle that contained the name of the person who had been killed and the date and site of their death.

“When you collect about 100 of these,” says Margolles of the bottles, “you really start to feel the weight of it.” 

When it came time to build the monument, this water was used to make the concrete. 

Sadly, the work’s intent — to draw attention to violence — couldn’t have been more timely. On that Thursday evening, a Latino man in his 20s was stabbed and killed nearby, according to a report in the Eastsider. The slaying took place near the park restrooms, a sergeant for the Rampart Division told the website. 

Margolles, who lives in the border city of Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, has long created large-scale, minimalist works that deal with the issue of violence. 

For her 2006 installation “32 Years: the Lifting and Removal Where the Murdered Body of the Artist Luis Miguel Suro Fell,” she cut out the piece of floor where a close friend was found murdered. She later presented the cut-out at the Artesmundi biennial in Wales, illuminated by an almost divine light.

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In 2009, at the Venice Biennale, she displayed a flag on the exterior of the Palazzo Rota-Ivancich that had been dyed with blood collected at narco-execution sites. The piece served as a memento mori to the tens of thousands of lives lost to the drug trade.

For Los Angeles, she wanted to look at the question of violent crime — compiling a list of the 975 homicides that took place between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. Of these, she and her team went to roughly 100 sites, from El Sereno to Torrance to Venice, washing them and gathering their residue of death.

The data were something she harvested from Crime LA, the Los Angeles Times crime mapping project — something she describes as “very generous” since “no one can tell you it didn’t happen.”

As part of the piece, Margolles made videos of each of the cleanings and is screening those videos in businesses around the neighborhood — including Elya Hair Salon on Alvarado and El Clásico Tattoo and Los Lavaderos Laundromat, both located on Sunset. (Somewhat inexplicably, the “Current: LA” website doesn’t feature the participating businesses — which means most viewers will simply stumble into them during the course of their day.)

“I wanted the piece to spill over into the neighborhood,” explains Margolles.

At nearly 20 feet tall, the artist’s piece in Echo Park has a powerful profile — drawing curious onlookers from around the park, with cellphones in hand. “I wanted it to be on the scale of what has happened,” says Margolles. “I wanted it to have presence.”

Margolles says she has already been moved by the ways in which “The Shade” has been used by people who visit the park — from a pair of children who took advantage of the echo generated by the concrete for an elaborate sound game to the ice cream vendor who asked her if he could set up his cart in the shade cast by the form.

For the artist, these mundane actions couldn’t be more poignant. “You are sheltering yourself with the dead,” she says.

“La Sombra,” ultimately, is a work that was created by and for Los Angeles — one that pays tribute to the everyday fallen, individuals whose deaths often generate little more than a bit of data on a digital crime map.

“We make monuments to generals, but not to ordinary citizens,” says Margolles. “I wanted to put the city in the piece.”

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“Current: LA Water”

When: Through Aug. 14

Where: Sites around Los Angeles; Teresa Margolles, “La Sombra (The Shade),” at Echo Park Lake, 1698 Park Ave., Los Angeles

Info: currentla.org.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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