Sorrow and its
briny companion, salt, are at the heart of Edith Abeyta’s 3-part installation
at El Camino College Art Gallery. A sense of loss, whether personal or
universal, underlies the black humor and welter of scavenged wood, greenware
ceramics, handkerchiefs, souvenirs and onion soup. Herein lie issues as far
flung as global warming, labor, mass production, women’s issues, hand processes
of reproduction and the general human impact upon the planet. Abeyta poses
questions, not solutions.
Her gift for
collaborative participation, whether with other artists, or with the viewer, is
at play in Cry Me a River where
850 contributed handkerchiefs/tear collectors, hang suspended from a grid of
string. On a nearby wall is a block of
51 hand-drawn and painted hankies, collected from 51 artists. Viewers are invited to draw on other
handkerchiefs provided by the gallery and join the fest of sorrow. In her work, which frequently references
traditional techniques and traditional societies, Abeyta pools the
contributions of many with the sense that multiple voices are stronger than
one. Her standpoint is one of detachment rather than possession of ideas and
In 1792 Marie
Antoinette was imprisoned, tried for treason and beheaded, due to her position
as Queen of France, her aristocratic viewpoin,t and historical
circumstance. She has been subsequently
vilified throughout history. Abeyta takes the viewer deeper than, “Let them eat cake”, in her installation 280 (Antoinette’s prisoner number). 280 is the artist’s recreation of the prison cell, walls papered with
pages of a memoir written by Marie Antoinette’s Lady in Waiting, Mme. Campon.
The installation provokes questions about revolution-who is the victim or
victor, who the scapegoat. Without intending to exonerate the queen,
the artist addresses the complexity of
one woman’s fate and her position in a time of upheaval. On the wall outside the prison chamber, a
be-wigged, be-rouged photo portrait of Abeyta as Marie Antoinette humorously
evokes a personal parallel.
platform, 15’x15’, the dimensions of a Sumo wrestling ring, is the setting for Heart
Follows Bird. Overhead flies a delicate string of off-white prayer
flags, each bearing the embroidered name of one of 340 species of migratory
birds that depend upon the Salton Sea for
passage. This inland sea, which has
become increasingly polluted and mal-affected by global warming, has evaporated
into a toxic wasteland, killing fish and fowl that frequent the waters. With
Sumo reference to ancient struggle, Abeyta stages the conflict of man vs.
nature in a drama with wrestlers depicted on ceramic vessels mounted on pier
pilings surrounded by strings of transparent fish in the much-too-salty
creates an atmosphere that lies somewhere between Early America and
cross-cultural anthropology. The work is open ended, tangential and
generous. Conceptual but neither
theoretical nor rhetorical, Salty: Three Tales of Sorrow is informed by a smart synthesis of
historical reference and personal experience.
Her receptions and exhibitions are opportunities for a unique sort of
social gathering and dialog between both friends and strangers.