Angels Gate Cultural Center presents our exhibition year entitled Into the Wilderness: The Journey Within. Over the course of the next year, artists and curators will engage the term "wilderness" from multiple perspectives ranging from ecological to introspective. The exhibitions consider how our ideas of wilderness continue to define our contemporary life and contemplate how we can find new opportunities to re/define the transition between physical and imaginary geographies.
Although, on first impression, "wilderness" may call to mind places of intense experience in nature far from civilization, it reveals itself to be much more than a location. Traditionally associated with a land of uncultivated, abandoned and inhospitable conditions or inhabited only by wild animals,1 during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries its meaning expanded subjectively to include more Romantic and transcendental notions like "the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires" and "the best antidote to our human selves," while mysteriously remaining the site of "something profoundly Other."2
Whether places considered wilderness are ultimately to be regarded as wastelands or sacred spaces, in either case it is not the places themselves that define the nature of the wilderness experience. "Wilderness," regardless of where it is situated or whether it is described as frightening or divine, is a cultural construct that is typically placed in opposition to "civilization," located apart from the human world as something pure and essentially natural, to be preserved and protected both from the outrages of global industrial exploitation as well as the small defilements of daily life.
We disagree. We consider that creating even the most high-minded dualism between humans and nature sets up a dynamic that creates conflict and does not lead to effective stewardship of the environment, either locally or on a global scale. We also believe that rather than being defined either as a physical or an imaginary location, "wilderness" is more a state of mind that defies location, either geographical or imaginary-one in which social structure relaxes, logic slips away and time and space collapse. This open state of mind, or "wonder," can be experienced in natural environments that inspire fear, disorientation, foreboding or other qualities of "sublime" landscape appreciated by the likes of Edmund Burke3-and it can also unexpectedly arise in the midst of degraded urban grittiness or in an unexplored corner of a superficially unremarkable backyard.
Artists in our group discover natural wonder in many places-from Antarctic icebergs to carcasses of dead birds. And just as we respect "wilderness" in all of its manifestations, we believe that biodiversity and sustainability can only be maintained if we humans give up trying to isolate "unspoiled" nature and instead seek a complete relationship with the natural world that includes responsibility and respect for the global interface of ecosystems, be they planetary or microscopic, that we unavoidably impact.
Wilderness Mind: Dissolving Duality includes the work of fourteen artists from the Southern California Women's Caucus for Art's Eco-Art Collective. As a group we embrace collaboration; we have worked together to study and work as eco-artists since 2005. This proposed exhibition represents work that ranges from photography to non-representational painting, performance, and installation; it spans a continuum of references to water from suburban irrigation systems to the arctic ice cap; to wildlife, including Barr owls, sea otters, and golden trout from the Sierras; and to locations from San Pedro Harbor to Mozambique. Within the frame of wilderness, the group's work articulates themes of degradation and emergence, natural cycles, mystery, concern for the environment, and connected oneness. We hope that the artistic diversity and interrelatedness of our work for this exhibition will give visitors an experience of our collaborative approach as an alternative to more traditional strategies of agency through domination, and to the possibility for everyone to experience "wilderness" in any number of settings, not just in uninhabited nature. Through the visual messages communicated in our work as well as through workshops and programs offered to the community in conjunction with the exhibition, our ultimate goal is to inspire visitors to participate in effective stewardship of the environment.
1 New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, third edition.
2 Cronon, William, "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature," Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90.
3 Burke, Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1857.
Deborah Thomas is an artist, professor and independent curator who lives in Los Angeles; she has also lived and worked as an artist in Geneva, Switzerland and New York. With an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and an MA and ABD from the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas currently teaches art history and contemporary art and theory at Pasadena City College, Glendale College and the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. She is a longtime member of the Eco-Art Collective sponsored by the Southern California chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art (SCWCA) and one of the chairs of the Women's Caucus for Art (WCA) national Eco-art Caucus; she also helped to organize "Elements," an eco-art conference produced by the Pacific Region WCA chapters last year in Berkeley. Thomas' recent artwork includes a series of conceptual installations and mixed media pieces using photographic images and found text; her work on environmental themes typically explores place and the environment metaphorically and builds from a personal point of view using domestic objects. She has also developed and curated several recent exhibitions: Day of the Dead Planet, Bringing the Past to Light: New Art from Old Images, Intimate Geography:
The Eco-Art Collective is a Los Angeles-based group of fourteen women artists that uses art to explore the many connections between creative and environmental practices through exhibitions, educational programs and public actions. The group was first organized in 2005 by artist/eco-activist Linda Lundell and is sponsored by the Southern California chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art (SCWCA), a national organization dedicated to creating community through art, education and social activism. In April 2007, they mounted their inaugural exhibition at Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles. Members subsequently showed together at the 2010 Blue Planet exhibition juried by Kim Abeles at SOMArts in San Francisco and at the Day of the Dead Planet exhibition curated by Deborah Thomas at Avenue 50 Studio in Los Angeles. Individual members have exhibited their environmental work in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and throughout the rest of the United as well as Asia and Europe. The collective also engages the community through lectures, installations and events. Expedition artists Danielle Eubank and J. J. L'Heureux have lectured at zoos and natural history museums across the country. San Pedro-based artists Annemarie Rawlinson and Hiroko Momii often intermix their meditative and activist practices.