A LETTER TO THE FUTURE
A Letter to the Future, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA
EXHIBITION ESSAY by Betty Ann Brown
Icebergs, Climate Change & Migration:
The Amazing Art of Luciana Abait
Migration is often misperceived as the failure to adapt to a changing environment. It is, however, one of the main coping and survival mechanisms that is available to those affected by environmental degradation and climate change.
International Organization for Migration, Ghana Chief of Mission.
As an immigrant with deep concerns about the problems in our biosphere, Luciana Abait is uniquely positioned to create art addressing the intersection of global migration and climate change. Abait was born in Argentina. She studied art in Buenos Aires, Massachusetts, and Cambridge, England before moving to Florida and then to Los Angeles in 2005. Throughout her peripatetic existence, she created art, primarily photographs and mixed media installations.
The subjects of Abait’s work have shuttled between the natural environment (air and water, flora and fauna) and humankind’s often-destructive impact on it. Her Under Water Series (2004-05) presented crystalline turquoise pool water invaded by legs and ladders. For A Mid Morning Garden Dream (2009), she cut photographs of lush tropical foliage into butterfly and moth shapes, then scattered flurries of the leafy insects across gallery walls. Her Water Cities, Los Angeles (2016-17) highlighted the aquamarine patches that punctuate the urban terrain.
A Letter to the Future, exhibited in the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 2021, is Abait’s most recent series. It focuses on icebergs as resonant symbols of both environmental devastation and destabilizing migration. In summer 2017, an immense
ice mass calved off the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Officially named A68a, the iceberg was approximately the size of the state of Delaware. It drifted through the South Atlantic Ocean before shattering into multiple large fragments. Abait embraced A86a as a visual metaphor for climate change. She realized that the movement of the ice chunk also could be considered emblematic of forced migration.
Although trained in traditional drawing and painting, Abait has developed a complex multi-media process based on photography, digital collage, and drawing in colored pencils and pastels. She begins with a photograph of something like A68a, then manipulates it on her computer, building a composition of natural and artificial shapes and colors. Next, she prints the final form on thick cotton paper (the same paper used by watercolorists). The printed image becomes her “canvas,” primed for manual enhancement, i.e., the “touch” of the “artist’s hand.” She covers and distorts the digital image with layers of lines drawn by pencils and pastels, creating a smooth, velvety surface that appears “real” but is actually totally constructed.
The surreal nature of Abait’s iceberg imagery is most obvious in the seascapes with hot pink or Kelly green skies (Pink Sky and Green Sky, both 2019). Some compositions place human-made urban structures on the icebergs: Wheel has a Ferris wheel on the top of the iceberg; Seats aligns four rows of theater seats on an iceberg’s slope; and Buoy II has the floating navigational device drifting aimlessly in the placid Antarctica Sea. (An earlier series situated ladders, bridges, scaffolds and cranes atop the immense ice islands.) The incongruous appearance of fabricated devices on otherwise “raw” nature points to the conceptual conflicts between culture and nature.
Some of the icebergs are enhanced by color, especially turquoise. Others employ expanded silhouettes, dramatically heightened contrasts between light and shadow, or more intensely defined contrasts between ice and sky, all of these limned in pencil and pastel. The altered icebergs become individualized entities that invite personal connection.
The pictorial juxtapositions of natural and man-made images create evocative configurations that can be considered on both personal and collective levels. The artist, as an immigrant herself, relates to the incongruous objects as objective correlatives of the alienation inherent in the immigrant experience. The icebergs are untethered, homeless, as are so many immigrants. But the icebergs are also linked to environmental devastation, which affects everyone. And that points to apocalyptic concerns, since climate change is an existential crisis for us all.
Amazing. Abait takes photographs, manipulates them, “paints” them with pastel and pencil--and thus inserts her aesthetic products into two of the most crucial conversations in which we as a species are engaged.
Betty Ann Brown