Kim Abeles: Smog Collectors, 1987-2020
Curated by Jennifer Frias
Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery, California State University Fullerton
September 18 -December 18, 2021.
The London Globe printed a new word "Smog," coined in a speech at the 1905 Public Health Congress. They considered it a public service to describe this phenomenon.
The Smog Collectors materialize the reality of the air we breathe. I place cut, stencilled images on transparent or opaque plates or fabric, then leave these on the roof of my studio and let the particulate matter in the heavy air fall upon them. After a period of time, from four days to a month, the stencil is removed and the image is revealed in smog. To quote a stranger, they are "footprints of the sky".
I created the first smog Collector in 1987 while working on artworks about the "invisible" San Gabriel Mountains, obscured by the smog as I looked from my studio fire escape in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1980s it was common to hear people insist that it was fog, not smog, that filled the air.
The Smog Collectors are presented in several series, including the Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates, all the presidents from McKinley to Bush with their portraits in smog and their quotes about the environment or industry hand-painted in gold around the rims. I left them out on the roof longer, depending on their environmental records.
Subjects for the Smog Collectors include the cave paintings of Lascaux, images of the body, industry and to-scale translations of American landscape painting and photography. Domestic settings, such as Dinner for Two in One Month of Smog, have been important to the dialogue of these works. We live in the contradiction that the dangers are out there, beyond, and that we are safe in our homes. Since the worst in our air can't be seen, Smog Collectors are both literal and metaphoric depictions of the current conditions of our life source. They are reminders of our industrial decisions: the road we took that seemed so modern.