By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove
Living in the city of Los Angeles and having an interest in art, translates to being able to attend limitless exhibit openings or aesthetically driven venues each week. Somewhere in between the countless museums exhibitions, gallery shows and alternative art spaces (aside from the constant string of art pop-ups and events), this city produces enormous amounts of art ready to be devoured incessantly. Alas this also translates into multiple galleries having comparable art shows time and time again (same artists, same topics, really similar shows), and various institutions displaying the work of the same artists all over the city at the same time (think Mapplethorpe). But somewhere in the middle of all this wonderful artistic chaos there’s L.A. Louver.
Over the past couple of weeks, I found myself at L.A. Louver on three separate occasions all of which coincided to programming around Silt, Soot and Smut, a solo exhibition featuring the remarkable work of Alison Saar who I recently had the pleasure of meeting. It is very rare for me to attend the same exhibition on multiple occasions, in part due to the art scene of Los Angeles. Yet on each individual interaction at L.A Louver I encountered some of the most fascinating happenstances as I engaged with art, the artist, the gallery owner and other individuals who just like me where enjoying the site, the art and the programing being offered by this gallery in Venice Beach.
Silt, Soot and Smut features the works of Alison Saar, a Los Angeles-based contemporary artist who delves deep within her practice into issues such as displacement. While producing the body of work featured in this exhibition Saar dug deep into the historical precedence of the great floods of our nation, starting with the Great Mississippi flood and culminating with Hurricane Katrina. It seems Saar became deeply intrigued with this subject matter upon a residency she had in New Orleans in 2013. Her work focused on the African American subjectivity, as each artwork envisions a different implication in the convergence of individuals with catastrophe and havoc.
Hades D.W.P serves to welcome the audience into the exhibition, a work featuring five different jugs on top of a shelf, each representing the five rivers of the underworld of Greek mythology. Acheron the river of sorrows, Cocytus the river of lamentation, Phlegethon the river of fire, Lethe the river of oblivion and Styx the river of hate; each are epitomized by a different etched jug, which contains liquid elixir to be conceptually drank by the accompanying ladles lingering from hooks on the shelf itself. Different poems by Samiya Bashir are attached to the jugs, all of which works cohesively for an aesthetic play on the viewer’s own visualization of this artwork. As Saar herself mentioned, she enjoys the visual interplay between the viewer with the work; as portions of the work itself become invisible or obscured based on the angle of the viewer, thus adding another layer of meaning onto the artwork itself.
The center piece for the exhibition prominently features Breach (large figure on raft), a beautiful sculpture made of wood, ceiling tin, found trunks, washtubs and miscellaneous objects that nears thirteen feet standing. The sculpture in the round, shows a figure of a female in a raft, carrying on her head her sole belongings hidden inside of trunks. Some of the objects that hang as a part of her baggage include pots, pans, an iron, a chair and multiple books. Symbolizing the various levels of displacement caused by the river floods in our nation, and how individuals were forced to relocate with only their necessities on a moments notice.
Breach is comparable only to Deluge, a floating head that stands by its hair, made up of wood, ceiling wire and cast iron standing at five feet tall on the opposing side of the gallery space. Deluge was by far and large my favorite artwork in the show, as it instantly reminded me of Girodet’s own Deluge currently in the permanent collection of The Louvre. Yet in a completely opposing manner, this Deluge hurt… somehow, seeing the floating head of a female reminded me of the countless images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which I later found out from Alison Saar herself to be one of the sources of her research while creating this body of work. Saar however, expanded on how she was horrified about the insensitivity of the media who focused their entire effort on showing chaotic imagery, instead of providing a helping hand for the victims of Katrina onsite. Surrounding these epic sculptures are multiple works on fabric, produced on the backs of steamer trunk drawers using charcoal; by which various African American individuals are depicted within bodies of water, be it at foot level of completely submerged. Alongside them smaller wooden sculptures accompany the exhibition.
On Jun 23rd L.A. Louver and Alison Saar hosted a Listening Party, by which Saar herself presented jazz and blues from 1927 Mississippi flood era music. Saar gathered the music which inspired her creation of the body of work featured in Silt, Soot and Smut, and presented the attendees with yet another layer of understanding into her own intricate creative process. Alongside Alison Saar herself, a screen, a dj, several jugs of moonshine and over one hundred attendees (which included Betye), L.A. Louver’s gallery space was transformed for a couple of hours into a hub of knowledge creation and transcendence, a conversation around the very topics of the exhibition’s theoretical framework took place that night as Alison Saar explained the inspiration behind Silt, Soot and Smut.
I was happy to attend the listening party as well as the exhibition opening and a private tour lead by Saar herself courtesy of the Fowler Museum, and was able to deeply engage with Silt, Soot and Smut on various levels and occasions. I even culminated a recent Public Art Tour of Venice which I hosted in conjunction with the Center for Management in the Creative Industries, last month by encouraging my attendees who joined from all over the country to visit L.A. Louver’s Silt, Soot and Smut.
Thus realizing time and time again that the superb level of programing and artworks being presented by L.A Louver surpasses that of its contemporaries. Thus I deeply encourage you to visit L.A. Louver, and be on the look out for Silt, Soot and Smut traveling to your city as it will be traveling to several college towns in our Nation.