Panel celebrates 10 years of Art & Nature exhibits at Laguna Art Museum
For the past decade, Laguna Art Museum has invited conversations about the arts and the natural world around us through its Art & Nature Festival.
The initiative, brought forth by former museum director Malcolm Warner and continued under the leadership of Julie Perlin Lee, has seen the public interact with nature and embrace environmental stewardship through the associated projects.
Several of the artists whose works have appeared in the series participated in a panel discussion at the museum on Friday night, providing a rundown of their projects and the inspirations behind them. They included Lita Albuquerque, Kelly Berg, Laddie John Dill, Rebeca Méndez and Phillip K. Smith III.
Méndez, who has had her work included in the showcase in each of the past two years, currently has “The Sea Around Us” on view through Sunday. Laguna Art Museum will be one of more than 30 Southern California institutions participating in the “Museums Free-for-All” program on Feb. 5.
In her current project, Méndez shows the various organisms that live in and depend on the ocean — including humans — illustrating the impact pollution can have. Méndez called the DDT barrels at the bottom of the ocean, which are featured in the work, a “monument to our negligence.”
“Where do we go as a humanity?” Méndez asked rhetorically. “The indigenous cultures [are], to me, the answer. I am looking for my own humanity through listening to indigenous cultures, whether they are Lakota, Azteca, Acjachemen, Tongva, invertebrate, avian or lupine. That is something where they all have been here for time immemorial, and we are so young in this.”
She added that reciprocity, respect and responsibility would be essential as humans navigate their kinship with other species.
Smith looked back fondly on his “Quarter-Mile Arc” installation. In 2016, the artist placed 300 10-foot-high stainless-steel poles perpendicular to the ground, reflecting sea and sky in Laguna Beach. He instinctively felt he could not create something that would top the area’s natural beauty.
“We found that people were flocking to the site around sunset,” Smith said. “Essentially, it felt like the artwork was like a tool for viewing the environment.”
One comment that stuck with him, he recalled, was when an observer said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a beach where everybody has their back to the sunset.”
“They were occupying the space between the sunset and the ocean and watching the sunset through the artwork,” Smith added. “For me, that was really important, because it was a direct connection with that environment.”
Patrick Shearn’s “Sunset Trace,” a Skynet installation commissioned for Laguna Art Museum’s Art and Nature event, is a hit with the local community.
Panelists also said the fact that their exhibits were temporary made them special. It made those interacting with the work stop and examine the pieces, and once the annual festival was over, the artwork would leave little or no trace that it had been there.
“I really see that as a commonality throughout all of our work,” said Berg, whose “Pyramidion” was among the exhibits in the most recent festival. “That moment of stopping and truly appreciating and connecting with nature. That’s the most important thing for me in my work is to inspire a deep spiritual connection with nature because I feel like if you inspire people’s connections with nature, they’re going to want to save it and work towards conservation.”
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