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Escape from the Landfill: Cultural Sanctuary in Surf City

CynthiaMinet_oxhead.jpg

As you walk into the subtle stone building of the Huntington Beach Art Center (HBAC) in the bustling downtown of the historic "Surf City," you stumble upon the peaking view of what looks like an overgrown mold infestation on the white gallery walls and ceiling. Upon further inspection, the ominous growth gets larger and larger, covering some of the walls and some of the ceiling like a virus. Pill bottle caps, every which way, in a multitude of colors, making you feel nervous and anxious, but at the same time, enamored and truly in awe. Then before you know it, two charging oxen are beaming with bright green and blue lights, are heading right toward you. In a surprising state of curiosity you glance around and find an absolutely giant baby doll completely made of toys, and sitting in the back of the gallery, like a manmade monster creation, just waiting to get up and eat you.

Escape from the Landfill, which opens this Saturday, July 14, 2012, is an exhibit that is focusing on the materials we discard as waste in our contemporary society. Three artists use discarded and repurposed materials to address issues concerning plastics, consumerism, and energy consumption. Each artist deals with this notion a bit differently, all of which are really inspiring and aesthetically amazing works of art.

Olga Lah's pill bottle cap installation is over-the-top awesome and visually beautiful, as is much of her work. This site-specific installation is on par with many of her past installations in Southern California, and evokes thoughtful concerns about where these caps would have ended up if she hadn't adopted them into her artistic vision for this installation. All of Lah's materials would have originally gone to a landfill somewhere, and in talking with me, she admits she has always had a strong fascination with objects and materials that are accessible for people--things that they can relate to, and she finds that objects like that have more artistic power in the end. Lah's volunteer-team of helpers had been at HBAC day in and day out to help her install the thousands of pill bottle caps onto the gallery walls, ceilings, and floors. The energy of the space is daunting, with a mix of fascination and anxiousness; the installation seems to encroach on viewers' personal space and comfort zone just enough to get them thinking.

Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

Cynthia Minet's life-size oxen are beaming with energy in their action poses, and seem as if they would literally charge you with their plow attached and all. The room is dark, and along with these up-cycled plastic creatures, they leave a trail of their work behind them. A sea of plastic bottles, LED lights, and other plastic items are left in the wake of their plow. Minet talked with me about the overwhelming issue of plastics in our environment and her inspiration for these working-animal sculptures. "Even though all of the plastics claim to be recyclable," she says, "they only break down into smaller components and then even smaller components, which we then put back into our oceans and lands, and as the cycle goes on, we ingest tiny morsels of this toxic, manmade material, in ways we don't even realize." These oxen almost serve as a futuristic mirror, showing mankind's demise by plastics. Almost completely made of found plastic containers, these oxen even still smell like some of the laundry detergent bottles that makes their muscle structure.

Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

Minet will be putting some of these creatures in her LAX project, Packing (Caravan), a similar sculptural installation containing a pair of oxen, a camel, a baby elephant, a donkey, a dog, and a carrier pigeon. Minet create working animals made entirely of plastics, and will be on display in the international terminal in 2013.

The third artist in the Escape from the Landfill exhibit is Joyce Dallal, and her giant baby doll not only frightens me back to my childhood nightmares, but also evokes memories of my favorite toys growing up. Dallal investigates the impact and influence of toys on our social, psychological, and physical environment with her giant toy receptacle-sculptures. Especially the concern of what happens to our toys when we're done playing with them. As children, our world is made up of our imagination, our environment, and our favorite playtime toys. But landfills can't be the only way we dispose our memory-filled playmate pals. So Dallal created Receptacle, a ten-foot tall sculpture/toy trashcan in the shape of a baby doll.

Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

"My favorite part of this exhibition is the community spirit behind it, and the participatory aspect of the exhibit," says Huntington Beach Art Center Curator, Darlene DeAngelo. The entire exhibition brings important topics to the surface in a fantastical way, in showcasing these artists and their work. Dallal's baby doll, Receptacle will have scheduled community "feedings". These feedings invite HBAC visitors to either help "feed" the baby--which invites you to drop unwanted toys into baby's head, or to exchange your own unwanted toys with other recycled toys that are on display. Alongside the enticing artwork in this exhibit, HBAC will be hosting a series of events including panel discussions about plastics and our local beaches, an eco-inspired poetry reading, an open invitation discussion between city council members and Rainbow Environmental Services, and a sponsored conversation with Susan Carpenter from the Los Angeles Times and the three artists in the exhibit.

This exhibit may seem like just another one of those eco-friendly "green works" show, but in a county that prides itself on its manicured lawns, and name-brand designer clothes, the grass roots, down-to-earth artwork is few and far in between. These artists aren't trying to charge you a boatload of money to help them "save the world", they're just trying to open up a conversation, instead of push everything under the rug. They are trying to make you think a little bit harder about the way we live our lives, and hoping to inspire people to live more consciously, while still enjoying art, the creative process, cultural institutions, and life.

Escape from the Landfill
July 14-September 1, 2012
Opening Reception: July 14, 2012, 7-9pm

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Top Image: Photo courtesy of HBAC and Darlene DeAngelo.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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