What Price Beauty? One Artist’s Take

November 6, 2009

Every woman makes a decision, even by not making one, on what lengths she’ll go to uphold her youth and beauty, whether for herself or someone else. In Rachel Havnonian’s current “Power and Burden of Beauty” at the Jason McCoy Gallery, her installation includes drawings, sculptures and film stills that challenge viewers to consider and reconsider the price of beauty.

Her work covers topics we have heard much about since the feminist and post-feminist art of the 80s and 90s. She explores the subject from the point of view of the way in which females are raised in the US by interrogating the world surrounding beauty queens and pageantry.

Using solid white marble as her medium, she constructs quiet, subdued worlds which invite the viewer to stare in silent reverie. Invoking Greco-Roman-like silhouettes of grand, larger-than-life-sized women, Havnonian dares visitors to experience her bleached-out world which feels at once ancient and futuristic — as if all our great classical past has been super sanitized in some dark future.

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Rachel Hovnanian, travel photo of Himba female from trip to Namibia in 2008

Kimberly Brooks: Aside from being a woman who is confronted with these issues daily, what inspired you to make it your theme?
Rachel Hovnanian: On a sketching trip to Africa, February 2008, I encountered Himba tribal women in their home setting in Namibia. Visiting with them and observing these strong, beautiful women, I was able to see some elements of our own society stripped of pretense and standing starkly in high relief. It became a sacrament for me, celebrating their strength and toughness, as I observed them living in the desert. Their roles in their society, their dignity and their bearing started me on the journey to strip away my preconceptions; and more personally, how powerful was their beauty and their clarity. I was moved profoundly seeing them and being welcomed by them. I created a short film so that I could capture, remember and show to others. As women, possessions, gender roles, stereotypes drive us to actions and limitations that are artificial rather than real.

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Rachel Hovnanian, The Power and Burden of Beauty, Installation

KB: What does the child’s bassinet and wallpaper of beauty icons signify in this context?
RH: I thought it necessary to relate how early in a woman’s life the strictures and celebration of beauty were inculcated. In an artful way, I simply wanted to present the reality. From our earliest days we are plunged into the roles and perceptions: from the traditional pink accoutrements, to the ways in which we are exposed to the outside world. As children, we learn ‘the rules’ very quickly and how punishing are deviations. Women are forced to rebel and question in order to become their own person. The ornate bassinet sits as a small votive before the wall of images, a sacrificial position.

KB: Describe your process of working, any routines you may have that might be unique, curious.
RH: Most of my work is in my studio downtown, off the West Side Highway. I work from early morning to early afternoon. It’s my pattern. When working on the 11 foot sculpture of the Beauty Queen, I worked in a large studio beside local craftsmen and other artists in a family-owned sculpture studio in Massa Carra. It has been in the hands of the Corsannini family for many years. There, I must follow the schedule of the family. The lights are turned off in the cavernous work area at midday. We wash our hands in preparation for the meal. Our faces are white with the marble dust. Massimo, Alessandro, Leo and I break crusty bread fresh from the local bakery. We eat the rich local cured meats flavored with fennel; and peppery olive oil made from Leo’s father in law’s orchard. The smell of fresh cheese fills the room and we slake our thirst with the rough local wine. There are no labels on the wine because it comes directly from the vineyard’s cask.

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Rachel Hovnanian, Who’s to Judge?, Video Still, 2009

KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you?
RH: The celebration of photo-shopped images, cruel distortions of reality has affected me deeply. Photos of Miss America and Miss Universe are a fascination for me; and gave much impetus to the work. My Beauty Queen totem, perfectly postured, is meant to invoke ice and snow. She is judged every year and is open to harsh criticism and idolatry. She is mute, standing 11 feet tall on an altar with an almost unconscious quality. She wears an evening gown and holds a bouquet, staring unseeingly off in the distance. She lives for the ages as do the celebrity figures at Madame Tussaud’s–permanent and ephemeral; solid and fleeting.

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Artist Rachel Hovnanian

Rachel is a classically trained artist who received her BFA at the Univ of Texas in Austin. Hovnanian grew up in Texas where beauty pageants were celebrated, meanwhile, her parents rejected this way of thinking as they were anti Vietnam war activists–her latest body of work reflects these conflicting values, “The Power & Burden of Beauty.” You can visit her website at www.rachelhovnanian.com.

Fear and Faith: The Art of Rebecca Campbell

October 29, 2009

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Rebecca Campbell, Said the Lady to the Man, 2007, oil on canvas, 100″ x 84″, image courtesy of LA Louver Gallery

There is a passage in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables that makes me think of Rebecca Campbell’s installations and paintings — both are at once familiar and menacing. Hugo speaks of the ways in which physical places from our pasts become holders and place cards for psychological memories and experiences. “But when we are distant from them we find that those things have become dear to us, a street, trees and roofs, blank walls, doors and windows; we have entered those houses without knowing it, we have left something of our heart in the very stonework. Those places we no longer see, perhaps will never see again but still remember, have acquired an aching charm; they return to us with the melancholy of ghosts…”

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Rebecca Campbell, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, 2009, avocado tree, steel, velvet, and fiberglass, Windex, glass, and bronze, 13′ x 16 ‘ x 18’, image courtesy of LA Louver Gallery

In Rebecca Campbell’s works, there is something of Hugo’s concept of “aching charm” that does indeed return to us with “the melancholy of ghosts.” In her recent Los Angeles show “Poltergeist,” Campbell recreated her parents’ front entry way with eerie precision. Walking in through this recreated threshold, visitors were faced with a blackened tree with aqua blue birds scattered throughout. Campbell walks the line of stark contrasts — suggested death and life, darks and lights, fears and faith. Her latest show opens this Thursday, October 29 at the Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe gallery in New York and runs through December 5th.

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For Fragonard and My Mother 2009, Oil on Canvas 36 x 27 inches, 91.4 x 68.6 cm
Image Courtesy of Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe

Kimberly Brooks: Your paintings seem to recreate idealized version of memories. How do you come up with your subject matter?
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LEFT: Rebecca Campbell, I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff, 2009, 13′ x 8′ x 14″, oil on board and mixed media, image courtesy of LA Louver Gallery


RIGHT: Rebecca Campbell, Parents Entry – Photo of the inspiration location for the installation I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

Rebecca Campbell: Because I’m interested in exploring aspects of childhood, memory, nostalgia and time I often use the house I grew up in and things in and around that house as inspiration. For my last exhibition “Poltergeist” people entered the show through my parent’s actual front doors. The doors were surrounded by my interpretation of the rest of their entry way. The doors were framed by 300 red “bricks” made of individual pallet knife oil paintings on panel. Other revisited objects include the kitchen table, bedroom wallpaper, shag carpet, the forest, our piano, an avocado green wall oven and the stairwell. My personal nostalgia gets charged with broader reflections on pop culture, art history, myth and religion.

KB: Tell us about what inspired you to make certain pieces in your recent shows.

RC: Right now I’m curious about the fact that when a person is having a really strong experience of nostalgia, time seems to collapse and the past, the present and everything in between become one. For example a nostalgic moment for me might be triggered by a memory of walking through the forest when I was five but that memory then triggers a hundred others from dancing to Boys Don’t Cry while drinking black label beer in the park when I was a teenager to cutting lavender for the dinner table yesterday afternoon. Time becomes a circle and it’s both sad and sweet at the same time.

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Rebecca Campbell. Pale Rider, 2009 Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 25.5 inches, 91.4 x 64.8 cm

A good example of how I incorporate this into my work is Daddy Daughter Date. The original idea for the painting is based on my relationship with my father as a teenager. Going on a “Daddy Daughter Date” was a tradition in our church. When you were 14 you got dressed up and went to a special dinner with your dad where you learned how to be a lady, waiting for doors to be opened, using silverware properly, and provoking thoughtful conversation. The reality of my 14 year old self was very different. I was sneaking out to underground clubs and flirting with every dangerous thing I could find. The kicker is that now I am a parent. So I restaged this drama between a father and a daughter in my current house and let the painting evolve from its inspiration point into an amalgam of experiences and time periods.

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Rebecca Campbell, Daddy Daughter Date, 2008, oil on canvas, 90″ x 67″, image courtesy of LA Louver Gallery

KB: Do you have any routines or process that might be unique, curious?
I’m interested in the combining realism and abstraction to create an experience that interests both the brain and the body. My art always has an aspect of story telling in it that appeals to the part of us that responds to language and symbols but it also always has an abstract aspect created by using huge brush marks or strange materials that affect people in a visceral way. I’m as happy to be using a turkey baster and a broom as I am to be using a three haired liner brush.

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Artist Rebecca Campbell, photography by Erik Torregroza

KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you?
RC: The centerpiece of “Poltergeist” was a 13 foot tall tree that has been encased first in Fiberglas and second in a finely tailored couture dress of black velvet. A flock of 30 hand blown glass bluebirds perch on bronze feet across the crown. The birds get their brilliant blue color from the Windex they’ve been filled with. The whole composition rises from a 7 foot wide dish filled with salt from the Great Salt Lake that shines like snow. The inspiration for this piece came while I was driving to Utah to visit family and passed a large stand of burned trees in deep snow drifts outside Cove Fort. The cadaverous white field against the dense charcoal silhouettes reminded me of Sargent’s Madame X, at once ravishing and ruined.

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John Singer Sargent, Madame Pierre Gautreau (Madame X), 1884, oil on canvas, 82″ x 43″, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

KB: What else about painting moves you. What is it all about for you?
RC: It’s about tracking ghosts. It’s about selling diamonds to poets. It’s about that slippery little idea of a connection that is deeper than butter and as long as water. It’s about the blasphemy of nihilism against the righteousness of being wrong and faithful.

I can put it in terms of Barthes. The slice between holds the power. Truth, Love, and Forever are all impossible right? But if you hem them together they become mythic. Something tied neither to the definition of its parts of the sum of its syllables. It becomes true the way that although narcissus is made of paper, his addiction to himself reveals itself every morning in a billion medicine cabinets.

If you invite love into reality it will undoubtedly show up and immediately be misunderstood and infected with the malignancy of being human. It will be abstracted and misapplied. That does not make it untrue. That makes it tragic and worthwhile above all else.

About the Artist
Rebecca Campbell (b. 1970) was born and raised in Salt Lake City, the youngest of seven children in a strict Mormon family. By age twelve, Campbell had begun to develop a critical eye, questioning the parameters of the church and the role it ascribed to her gender. This led to her departure from the church. Campbell did not bow to pressure to conform to the societal norms, but instead spent her teenage years developing her passion to make her art, which included sculpture and installation, as well as painting and drawing. Campbell left Utah to study at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, Oregon, receiving her B.F.A. in 1994. While continuing to make art, she worked as an independent exhibition curator in Salt Lake City 1994 through 1998. In 1998, Campbell received a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and in 1999, moved to Los Angeles where she earned her MFA from UCLA in 2001. Campbell’s paintings have been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York and Basel, Switzerland and featured in publications including Art News, the Los Angeles Times, Art Papers, X-TRA, Art Ltd., and Artworks Magazine. Campbell is represented by LA Louver Gallery in Venice, CA and Ameringer-Yohe Fine Art in NYC, NY. Recent exhibitions include Superficiality and Superexcrescence: Surface and Identity in Recent California Art at the Ben Maltz Gallery in Los Angeles, CA in June of 2009 and a solo exhibition opening in October 2009 at Ameringer-Yohe Fine Art. You can visit Campbell’s website at www.rebeccacampbell.net .

Marilyn Minter Splashes Los Angeles

October 20, 2009

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Marilyn Minter, Installation shot of Green Pink Caviar, 2009, Times Square, New York

Luscious. Naughty. Saturated. Decadent.
Such is the moment we are immersed in when we stand in front of the art of Marilyn Minter. Los Angelenos can be in that moment when her show opens at the Regen Projects Gallery this Saturday night. Just like the oozing green je ne sais quoi that spills out of a mouth and gets tongued against a pane of glass in “Green Pink Caviar,” this art show also leaks out of the gallery onto Sunset Blvd., just like it did in New York’s Time Square, and as the video backdrop for Madonna’s latest tour.Marilyn’s images capture singular micro gestures in great detail — a tongue swirling teasingly on pink and green colored caviar, Pamela Anderson soaked and rapturous. Detail often defines the entire character and story itself. And that story is usually a party and that party is well underway when the viewer arrives, suddenly undressed and feeling kinky. But don’t be satisfied with just seeing the billboards. The paintings are awesomely large, glittering enamel extravaganzas. They envelope and probe the viewer just as the tongue probes that caviar. It’s shocking to be naked at a party, isn’t it? Welcome to the Marilyn Minter Show — which runs from Oct 24th to Dec 5th at Regen Projects in Los Angeles.

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Chewing Pink 2008, c print. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, Marilyn Minter.

Kimberly Brooks: How do you come up with the images that comprise your work?
Marilyn Minter: I don’t think I can illustrate it, as it’s a conflation of a lot of events, it’s what I had for breakfast that morning! My creative process is just getting into the zone and letting the moment of discovery happen. I take pictures that I don’t even remember taking until I get the film back — I’m in the zone when I take those kinds of pictures.

KB: Your images and video capture deliciously — even psychedelically — parts of people in their most uninhibited state. What inspired you to use the tongue and lips against glass which has become so iconic in your work.
MM: I wanted to make enamel paintings along the idea of ‘painting with my tongue’. So I organized a shoot to get the reference material for the painting “Pop Rocks”. I was shooting stills of models with long tongues swirling and sucking bakery products from under a pane of glass. My makeup artist shot some short videos during the shoot just to see how it would look. The low definition videos looked so good that we made plans to do a professional high definition video. This made sense to me as I have made both billboards and produced a commercial advertising a painting show in 1989. You can see a trailer of the video “Green Pink Caviar” at www.greenpinkcaviar.com.

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Marilyn Minter, Strut, 2005, Enamel on metal, Image courtesy of Salon 94, New York & RIGHT: Detail of Strut

KB: How do you make those magnificent paintings? Why enamel?
MM: I invented this way of painting a long time ago, I use layers and layers of translucent enamel paint on metal to produce a luminous, almost hallucinatory finish. I soften all the hard edges with my finger tips. This is why my paintings look so different than oil and acrylic paintings, they’re actually layers of enamel paint. In the detail of “Strut” above, you can see the fingerprints on the surface of the painting.

KB: What is one of your favorite works of art?
MM: I saw Charles Ray’s Ink Line back in the late eighties in an art magazine, then later in his catalogue and I was lucky enough to finally get to see it in person this year at Matthew Marks Gallery. It’s the best piece of art I’ve seen all year — it’s one of the best pieces of art ever made, and it made me glad to be an artist.

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Charles Ray, Ink Line, Moving Wire, Spinning Spot, Installation View, 2009. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Minter has been the subject of numerous museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide. She was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and featured on a series of billboards throughout New York City in conjunction with the exhibition. Her work is the subject of current solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio and The Cannery in Murcia, Spain. Minter is represented by Salon 94 in New York,Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach, Andrehn-Schiptjenko Gallery in Spain and Regen Projects in Los Angeles. Green Pink Caviar will be gracing the digital billboards on Sunset Boulevard in LA, a public art project happening concurrently with Marilyn’s first exhibition at Regen Projects, opening October 24th and running through December 5th.

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Artist Marilyn Minter. Photo by Johan Olander

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative processtechnology and showcases artists‘ work from around the world.

First Person Artist/ Huffington Post Luncheon

September 4, 2009

The Huffington Post and Kimberly Brooks will be hosting a lunch for Featured Artists Oct 15 in New York City. Invitation forthcoming.

A Vigil for my Father, Leonard Shlain

June 11, 2009

As I write this, my father, Leonard Shlain, is dying of a brain tumor. A couple of weeks or months ago, I might have said “living with a brain tumor.” But now that is just not the case. I write from the top floor of the beautiful home in Mill Valley that he built and helped design with San Francisco sparkling to my left and Mount Tamalpais sleeping to my right. My father is in the bed behind me. I am sitting at his desk. He drifts in and out of consciousness (mostly appearing to sleep) and this is where my family is holding vigil.

I was going to tell the editor that I cannot write this week or next or maybe for a while. I may still do that, I don’t know. But I cannot be the only one in pain. I thought maybe if I shared this sorrow that it might make me feel better or maybe it could even make someone else feel better who is going though something similar. Also, he is an unrepentant ham and when I asked him if he wanted me to devote this week’s column to him, he squeezed my hand and grunted one of the three words that he uttered that entire day which was yes.

As I write, I push the monitor to the side and keep my hands on the keyboard while I stare out the windows. I’m looking at the birds flying over the water and I can see the boats and Sausalito. What happens when we die? Is he afraid? Is he still angry for being snatched from the living two weeks before the birth of my sister’s child with ten more books to write?

Many people say that their dad is amazing. My dad is the real deal. He used to write me long letters filled with wisdom when I was at camp as a kid and in college on a yellow legal pad with his signature green pen. Sometimes they were typed. When we were young, he would entertain us and our classmates by bringing a human brain to our elementary school in a white bucket of formaldehyde during show and tell. In the backyard, instead of a swing set, he built a stained-glass geodesic dome with a hot tub in the middle (ah, Marin in the 70s). Dinner conversations typically spanned from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to politics, literature to an incredibly dirty joke. When he came home after a hard day’s work as a young surgeon- saving lives for a living-, occasionally he would have dried blood spatters still on his glasses as he would diagram the operation of the day on a napkin. Later, his diagrams became more adventuresome and expanded to thought experiments that included what it would be like to sit astride a beam of light and how that corresponded with Picasso’s rose period, blue period. This, and when he took me to New York to see the museums, was what inspired him to write his first book Art & Physics. Alphabet vs. The Goddess and Sex, Time and Power followed.

My father sometimes described his experience of life as that of him climbing up a mountain and that there is some old guy on top throwing boulders at him. He always sought the unattainable and would achieve it. He grew up in Detroit Michigan, the son of immigrant parents, graduated high school at sixteen, medical school when he was twenty three, became a Captain in the Army got married and moved to Mill Valley in the late sixties. When as a surgeon he started writing a book about art and physics, he was initially met with disdain from experts in those fields who would say “How dare a surgeon should write about these two fields, neither of which he is an expert?” Oh but he was an expert and the books that line the walls of his house attest to it. One huge boulder was being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of thirty seven. He went into remission and survived.

It was this first bout with cancer that in a profound way set him free. He saw every day after that as gift. He pushed himself far out of the boundaries of being a doctor by writing his books. He was hungry and greedy for life experience, never wanting to miss a thing. It wasn’t until thirty some odd years later (three years ago) that he would be struck by a string of diseases, lymphatic interstitial pneumonia, MDS, leukemia and then for the grand finale a stage four terminal glioblastoma brain cancer for which he had emergency surgery this fall. We, his incredible wife, Ina Gyemant, my brother, sister and I, gathered around him in horror as he awoke in the hospital and couldn’t speak. “We’re all big satellite dishes, dad. We can hear everything you’re thinking and want to say.” He eventually regained his speech and we took a huge family trip to Hawaii. Ironically, when the tumor hit he was finishing up his last book “Leonardo’s Brain” based on Leonardo Da Vinci. So for the last nine months as I edited the manuscript and he gave us blow by blow details of his health, all we talked about was Leonardo’s brain in some form or another.

In addition to setting an extraordinary example as a person, he was an exceptional father. When I was twelve my father would repeatedly sit me down a say a version of that quote I always see attributed to Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou— about being brilliant and gorgeous and how dare one not be as great as he can possibly be. He would say “You have brains, beauty and talent and can do and be anything you want.” He told me that a great power would come with all this and that in the coming years I would be testing it out and that I had to use it wisely. I believed him and I still do. He gave all of us Shlain kids an unbelievable confidence and daring. Anyone who knows us (my sister Tiffany, the filmmaker, and my brother Jordan, the doctor) knows this to be the case. (He also told us other truisms, such as to never trust a man with thin lips or who wears a pinky ring or who has to say more than one sentence to describe what he does for a living.)

I asked him the other day while I was helping him add quotes to his newest book: “Are you afraid to die?” “No” he said.” I’m not afraid to die. I just want to live.” Last Monday, when we got the news that the Avastin (the tumor-shrinking drug he was taking) was no longer working, my stepmother told me that he said he wanted to call his parents who passed away long ago. He wanted to tell them the horrible news that he was going to die and that there were no more bullets in the chamber to fight all the diseases.

When he is actually no longer here, something I’ve been preparing and dreading and yet still cannot fathom, like all the most important events in my life, I know he’ll be the first person I’ll want to call to tell him the news.

Update: Leonard Shlain passed away Monday morning, May 11th at his home in Mill Valley. For information about the memorial go to www.leonardshlain.com.

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Mothers Against Plastic

May 21, 2009

My first real introduction to inane plastic over-usage was having children. There’s nothing quite like the mountains of toys and bits and pieces that only seem to be enjoyed during the “opening” portion of a birthday present. Then I’d notice curiously that my kids would receive far more hours of enjoyment over a cardboard box. It’s less about the material itself, but that kids are suckers for brightly colored things. Once they get over the rush of tearing open the clam shell plastic packaging, they literally never play with it again. I’d end up filling large plastic Glad bags (the really large one for leaves) with bits and pieces of toys that, once torn asunder, were never decipherable again.

And then, there are the straws.

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Typical way restaurants serve kids drinks.

You’d think that the entire nation, with its pernicious overuse of the Starbucks cups, was incapable of weaning itself from sucking a nipple. No wonder waiters knee-jerk response to anyone under five feet tall is to give them a cup with a plastic lid and a straw. The minute I walk into any kind of restaurant with my kids, the waiters immediately slap some individually packaged Crayola crayons on the table (Crayola, shame on you!), the kids menu and a cup with lids and drinking straws.

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I’m sure they think they’re doing me a favor. But my kids are not four and five years old, they’re nine and ten. Even if they were four or five, whatever happened to a simple used tupperware tub designated for used crayons?

But this is one teensy-weensy battle in a much larger war, the Waterloo of which is the plastic water bottle itself. As a population, we are so obsessed with being hydrated that you would think we have just been admonished by Moses for the golden calf and sentenced to wandering in the desert for forty years again. We pay more for bottled water than gasoline. Never mind the fact that the droplets that condense on the inside of a water bottle and suck the toxins from the container go into children’s bodies and hormones, elevating estrogen levels and god knows what else.

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So, instead of merely whipping myself into a froth, I started a blog called “I Think I Hate Plastic” (www.Ithinkihateplastic.com) where I and a group of like-minded friends collect ditties about everything from hilarious Penn and Teller Videos, that gigantic plastic blob the size of Texas in the Pacific, to arguments over which is really is better is better at the grocery store, paper or plastic, etc.

I wasn’t equivocating on the name because a part of me likes plastic so much as the fact that “Ihateplastic.com” url was taken (probably by Dupont in a preemptive strike). And even though I’m quite certain that I hate plastic, I love my sunglasses and I don’t know how I might survive an operation without those plastic tubes coming out of my nose. So, let’s just say it’s complicated.

Nonetheless, I have in tiny ways and every day devoted my family’s daily habits to weaning ourselves off this petroleum by-product that takes hundreds of years to decompose, leaves toxic waste when it does, and yet is totally overused for things meant to be disposable, thrown away, or only used once.

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In addition to me and pressing my entire being against the “Hoover Dam of Sugar” (I am the damn, the sugar is the water attempting to engulf and obesify my children —another blog altogether), I am also doing a body block against the Hoover Dam of Plastic. I once told the kids they can only buy toys for their birthday that don’t have plastic (try it, it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE). I send the crayons back. I ask them for their drinks in glass cups.

As I continue to twirl in mid-air performing Matrix-like karate kicks to keep as much plastic away as I can, I hope you join me in the fight. If more mothers join me, we can take a pick ax to the frozen sea of other moms who aren’t simply hysterical with outrage over the plastic that pummels our children from every angle, restaurant and toy store shelf. Hmm… MothersAgainstPlastic.com, I better register that too. Happy Earth Day.

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What Climate Change Might Look Like: Chris Larson’s Deep North

April 30, 2009

Every now and then an artist so vividly articulates a quiet fear that it takes my breath away. Fresh from the celebration of Earth Day, a year long celebration, I wanted to share with you “Deep North” by artist Chris Larson.

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Chris Larson, Deep North, 2008, C-Print mounted on aludibond, 35 x 35 inches, Edition of 5 + 2 AP’s, Courtesy of magnus muller, Berlin

As an artist, I do not profess any deep knowledge about the science of climate change, but I do have specific images that come to mind when I think about it. There is a moment in “The Inconvenient Truth”, for example, when Al Gore explains how the Gulf Stream– the conveyor belt of ocean currents that guides warm water around what would otherwise be a much colder climate, might break and could theoretically plunge Europe into a rather a rather sudden ice age.

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Chris Larson, Deep North, 2008, C-Print, 35 x 35 inches, Edition of 5 + 2 AP’s,
Courtesy of magnus muller, Berlin

I too was flummoxed by the idea that “Global Warming” could really cause extreme cold. Isn’t the concept of rising sea levels from melting ice sheets and glaciers, destroying island nations and flooding millions of coastal residents by the end of the century enough and quite the opposite? But sudden severe changes in temperature in both directions is the potential result of the monster we’ve created through years of carbon emissions and environmental neglect.

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Victim of Pompeii, A Time-Lapse Metaphor for Man’s reaction to Global Warming

Whatever the effect, I anticipate being wholly caught off guard by the kind of earth that awaits us in the future, like a victim of Pompeii. Through his stills and films, Larson taps into the fears of man’s impact on the earth while also creating a strange and haunting beauty found in this isolation.

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Chris Larson, Deep North, 2008, C-Print mounted on aludibond, 35 x 35 inches, Edition of 5 + 2 AP’s, Courtesy of magnus muller, Berlin

I asked Chris what inspired this vision and he told me that while vacationing in Versiox Switzerland, an intense ice storm moved in the night before covering everything. He said it was “gorgeous and apocalyptic.” This inspired him to recreate the moment in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. In the fall of 2008, he built a house, and then in February, the coldest month of the year in Minnesota, he sprayed hundreds of gallons of water on the house to recreate what he witnessed in Versiox. He then shot a short film inside of the house called “Deep North”.

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Chris Larson, Deep North, 2008, C-Print mounted on aludibond, 35 x 35 inches, Edition of 5 + 2 AP’s, Courtesy of magnus muller, Berlin

Larson’s prints in Deep North capture human naiveté and the wrath of mother nature all at once. It provides a space as quiet as a pin drop– the kind of quiet that only happens in winter– where we can hear ourselves think. And unlike the other messy apocolyptic visions of say, a nuclear winter or a war torn city, the destruction evokes a much larger force than man at work.

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About the Artist
Chris Larson was born in 1966 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he still lives and works as an artist and Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota. In 1990, he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Bethel College, St. Paul, MN, and in 1992, a Master of Fine Arts at the Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT. His latest work “Deep North” was presented at the magnus muller Gallery in Berlin and at the Rochester Art Center in the winter 2008/09. His next solo show will be at the Burnet Art Gallery at Chambers at the Luxury Art Hotel in Minneapolis, MN. Chris Larson is represented by magnus muller, Berlin (www.magnusmuller.com).