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Climate Change-Focused Artist Residency Maps Out a New Future in the Pandemic

Air is a unique artist residency that focuses on interconnected issues related to climate concerns. Currently nearing the end of its third cohort, Air has experienced profound shifts as a direct result of the past year spent in pandemic lockdown while struggles for social and economic justice raged in the streets. The project has launched a comprehensive website that archives past exhibitions and programs and begins to map out a new future. Air is also unveiling an unprecedented collaborative project created by the current cohort of veronique d’entremont, Joel Garcia and iris yirei hu.

Founded by artist Debra Scacco, Air began in 2017 as the result of fortuitous chance encounters that arose from longstanding threads in the artist’s own practice. While meeting with the group River L.A. to discuss a possible environmental art project, Scacco discovered a little-known downtown L.A. gem: Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a cleantech incubation facility packed with cutting-edge prototyping equipment. It immediately occurred to her that artists should be embedded in this place, and Scacco proposed herself as their first artist-in-residence.

The idea for a single residency quickly grew into a comprehensive program supporting research-led climate-focused artists. Later that year, during an informational meeting with the Durfee Foundation, Scacco’s description of her vision for Air proved to be so compelling that she soon found herself with seed funding to get the program off the ground.

1/3 An installation view of Rebecca Bruno’s “Life Keeping Recipe for a Relic,” a group of dance and sculpture works relating regenerative systems, as seen in permaculture, with choreographic practice. The sculpture works were developed as part of “Archeology of the Present” for Air. | Ruben Diaz

An installation view of "(Dis)Location," an installation featuring works from artists Beatriz Jaramillo, Elana Mann and Britt Ransom. The piece in the foreground is part of Jaramillo's "In Between: Los Angeles Wetlands," — an art piece that explores the contradiction between continual urban expansion and nurturing L.A's wetlands.

2/3 An installation view of “(Dis)Location,” an installation featuring works from artists Beatriz Jaramillo, Elana Mann and Britt Ransom. The piece in the foreground is part of Jaramillo’s “In Between: Los Angeles Wetlands,” — an art piece that explores the contradiction between continual urban expansion and nurturing L.A’s wetlands. | Ruben Diaz

Stencils and stamps hang at a tent during the CicLAvia event at MacArthur Park in 2019. Created by Air artist Elana Mann, the interactive, eco-art project, titled "Dark Victory," invited participants to make custom prints with their bikes using eco-friendly ink.

3/3 Stencils and stamps hang at a tent during the CicLAvia event at MacArthur Park in 2019. Created by Air artist Elana Mann, the interactive, eco-art project, titled “Dark Victory,” invited participants to make custom prints with their bikes using eco-friendly ink. | Monica Nouwens

The first two cohorts, each composed of three artists based in Los Angeles, received stipends along with access to LACI’s facilities and networks of experts over a six-month period. The emphasis of the residency was on research and experimentation related to environmental issues, with a vision of eventually giving rise to public artworks that could help to raise awareness and move global climate change policies forward. Exhibitions were held at the end of these two cohorts so the public could see what the artists were working on. In addition, Air organized artist talks, panels, workshops and other special events and exhibitions in partnership with local businesses and arts and civic organizations.

Among the first two cohorts, Rebecca Bruno, a dance-based artist, held public movement workshops at LACI in 2018, which in turn inspired a series of geometric machine-cut sculptures that connected regenerative systems such as permaculture with choreographic practice. In 2019, Britt Ransom utilized a 3D scanner to create “Parallel Paths,” a luminous, multi-part installation that mapped the movement patterns of bark beetles and studied the role they play in California’s devastating wildfires. Done in consultation with a botanical consultant at the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Ransom’s project has the potential to influence how information on bark beetles is shared among researchers.

A photo of two neon-glowing art pieces hang on the wall. Fragmented paths created by bark beetles are in the middle, glowing in an electric blue while the frame is lit in a purple neon light.

1/2 A photo from artist Britt Ransom’s multi-part installation, “Parallel Paths,” an exploration and experimental project studying paths created by bark beetles. | Ruben Diaz

A close-up photo of Britt Ransom's piece shows more details on the segmented pieces of glowing bark. The light is a bright blue color.

2/2 A close-up of artist Britt Ransom’s piece in their “Parallel Paths” installation. | Ruben Diaz

In 2020, the pandemic brought necessary changes to Air’s structure along with the opportunity to rethink its parameters going forward. With LACI’s facilities closed to the public, Scacco and the organization decided to utilize their resources to manufacture face shields, joining the movement to help meet the acute national need for PPE. The now completely virtual artist residency became solely focused on research, critical thinking and the generation of ideas.

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The cohort met by Zoom weekly, engaging in intense conversations about world events and what it means to be an artist in this moment and what it means to make and/or exhibit art under such extraordinary circumstances. Each of the three artists continued working on individual projects, which they discussed during an Air panel discussion on Zoom in September: d’entremont’s “interspecies collaboration” with a hive of bees, which serves as a lens into both climate justice and their own mother’s suicide; Garcia’s exploration of ways to reclaim and “re-indigenize” public spaces for Indigenous peoples and other historically marginalized groups; and hu’s apprenticeships in traditional weaving, composting and natural dyeing to “explore regenerative models that enable collaborative life-making between peoples and places.”

For Scacco, this period of reflection confirmed with even greater urgency her central idea for Air: that artists are first and foremost thinkers, and they need to be afforded the time, space and resources to simply think, as opposed to producing objects for exhibition and/or commerce. Many if not most artworks don’t happen overnight; they require long periods of gestation, to which most sources of arts funding do not give enough consideration. In addition, because artists are such good thinkers and strategists, more of them need to be embedded in places of influence, such as city planning departments.

Going forward, this will be the last Air cohort held in collaboration with LACI. “With collaboration at the heart of all we do, I believe Air can have even greater impact as a nomadic project that isn’t tied to a single institution,” says Scacco. Air’s purview will also be expanded from L.A.-only to national and perhaps even global programming. The details are still being worked out, but Scacco is committed to the sustainability of Air over the long haul, and Air programming will continue in the interim.

A drawing of a framework developed by the current Air cohort. In the middle reads, "Grounding," and each corner has its own word: "Lineage," "Surrounding," "Community" and "Home."
A photo of “An Offering to Unsettle Settlement,” — a framework developed by the current cohort of veronique d’entremont, Joel Garcia and iris yirei hu and drawn by hu. The project is broken down into five principles — grounding, lineage, surrounding, community and home — and suggests questions for participants to reflect on their thinking and making. | Courtesy of Air

Instead of a public exhibition of individual works, the current cohort has decided to create Air’s first collaborative project, titled “An Offering to Unsettle Settlement.” Accessible online, the project is a sequence of activities that asks participants to consider their relationships to the past, the present and the future. It includes a guiding framework, an audio work to encourage grounding and a blank accordion book for participants’ thoughts, including guidance on how to make an expressive eco-print. The work, intended to shift viewers’ perspectives on how to engage with art and their environment, reflects on how life experiences are deeply folded into the creative practices of these artists.

A free, limited-edition physical version of the project will also be available. In June, there will be a final artist talk as well as a reflection session with the artists that is open to anyone who participated in the project. Join the Air mailing list to receive details on the final events and stay abreast of Air’s evolution going forward.

How does one make sense of their own participation in the world, taking into consideration pasts that have formed legacies of colonialism and disenfranchisement? This question, considered through a philosophy of addressing and repairing harm, has led us to center Indigenous and land-based environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation in our collaboration. Drawing from our studio practices, we developed An Offering to Unsettle Settlement to ask participants to reflect on their stories, climate and futures while grounding them in the intimacy of their immediate environments.

veronique d’entremont, Joel Garcia, iris yirei hu



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