If the vast sky framed by the Pacific and the rolling mountains is ubiquitous to us in Southern California, then the car is our common denominator. Living in a city linked by freeways where commutes often run 45 minutes, we glimpse the surrounding landscape from the confined environment behind our windshields. Within this uniformity is diversity.
Los Angeles: Land of the Smokes gives us a selection of artwork examining this aspect of our landscape-freeway culture. Some pieces such as Birk’s drawing of a billboard from below reinforce the perspective we witness these totems of modern society from, while Becker’s overwrought collages remind us of the abundance of such signage we experience while driving. Shapiro’s comical photograph of a palm tree growing through a plastic drop cloth and Thompson’s surreal image of a looming utility pole put us the passenger seat watching the landscape roll by. Other works like Cooper’s abstract painting and Orr’s impressionistic view from behind the Hollywood sign are saturated with Southern California’s palette best seen from the seeping vistas of a highway overpass.
However, beyond appearing only once, the car is never overtly referenced in the show. Instead, it’s an assumed reality. In it’s own way, Los Angeles: Land of the Smokes highlights that even though our cars are prosthetic devices to augment our vision and ostensibly bring the luster of the city closer, those facades and billboards appear as highly personal and jumbled imagery. It reminded me to appreciate the oddities I take for granted when I’m stranded in gridlock. Without realizing it, I found myself looking at the art from the memory of being behind the windshield. The work’s diversity coalesced around that familiarity I share with other commuters. These are the perspectives we all know. But, we all know them differently.
Los Angeles: Land of the Smokes runs December 9, 2016 – January 12, 2017 at LAST Projects (6546 Hollywood Blvd #215, Los Angeles, CA 90028)