Artist Luciana Abait, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina in 1997, draws from her own personal feelings of displacement and vulnerability to urge viewers to consider how global warming is wreaking havoc, especially on the lives of climate migrants. (Submitted)

Artist’s solo exhibition tackles the urgency of climate change

Imagination and art are two powerful tools for promoting an understanding of climate change and the urgency of taking collective action so that the planet and its inhabitants can survive. Los Angeles-based artist Luciana Abait has been tackling this subject with her art as a way of urging people to consider the ways global warming is wreaking havoc on the world and upending the lives of climate migrants.

From now until Dec. 10, a survey exhibition entitled “Luciana Abait: On the Verge” is on display at Laband Gallery at Loyola Marymount University. The multimedia solo show features 20 works from 2017 to 2022, including a new series created for this exhibition.

“There was really a very strong intention that these pieces have the opportunity to be in physical proximity to one another because there are conceptual throughlines,” said Karen Rapp, the Laband Art Gallery director who curated the exhibit. 

Rapp visited Abait’s work at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during the pandemic. Impressed by it, she felt that bringing it to the Laband with some of Abait’s older work and other media would open up the possibilities of her imagery and draw visitors to a greater extent into the landscapes. It would also, Rapp said, deliver a very strong message about how the environment is changing because of human actions.

Abait described the opportunity as both an honor and a dream come true as it brings together her iceberg series and presents her map installation, a piece entitled “The Maps that Failed Us.” It also includes a huge multi-media projection piece that she showed last year for one night in Downtown LA on a 37-foot wall. 

Then, she has a new roadtrip series developed during the pandemic and inspired by landscapes in the American West. Her photographs show how these landscapes have been altered by humankind.

 “All of these series had always been presented separately,” Abait said. “But I had always been wanting and had always dreamt about presenting everything in one space, because everything is connected. There’s a very strong thread. This is a dream come true to show how all the worlds are connected, how there’s a thread and how I can work with different media.”

Everything, she said, connects at both a visual and conceptual level while addressing climate change. “The Maps that Failed Us” is a monumental collage installation—approximately 120 by 200 inches (or 10 by 16 feet) that stretches down a hallway and is made of paper and cardboard. 

“In these maps, I rearranged the countries in random order, so that no country is where it’s supposed to be,” Abait said. “This makes a comment on the current state of the world where everything that we thought we knew, no longer makes sense. This is a map of the absurd. It also talks about how climate change affects immigration, it talks about interconnectedness and how we are all connected, for good and for bad.”

Rapp described the response some theology students who were visiting the exhibit had to the map. They talked about how COVID destroyed the idea of any continent being off limits and how the map amplified that no spot in the world is too far away for us to be in dialog with or to have a connection with. 

“One student said, ‘Think about Amazon and how Amazon is everywhere in the world. There’s probably not any part of the world where you cannot go online and get a delivery, so it just has completely changed the idea of physical distance,’” Rapp said. 

Pointing out that the map in the installation is wrinkled, she added, “Then another student thought that Luciana’s work was a commentary on just how we’ve basically crumpled up and thrown away our planet.”

Abait explained that the paper and cardboard sculpture is shaped as mountains—something that ties with her iceberg work.

“There’s this conceptual and visual connection with the rest of the exhibition and then I’m talking about immigration, because of course, there are so many environmental catastrophes that lead to immigration and refugees,” Abait said. “When you see a spectator looking up to the maps and to the mountains and the countries, you place yourself as a spectator and an immigrant, looking up to the countries and trying to figure out, ‘Where do I belong? Where can I land? Is there any land where I can call home?’ So, there are lots of different layers and meanings in this map that we can find.”

Rapp said it is remarkable how resourceful Abait has been throughout the pandemic. She’s found new ways to make and show work, whether it involved projecting work in storefronts in Culver City or being part of drive-by events in LA. Abait took road trips with her family where she made work. One of those trips was to Lake Powell, the subject of a CNN report in the early days of the exhibit revealing that it is at 24% of its water capacity.

“The range and contouring (in the photos) really is Luciana’s signature,” Rapp said. “The softness—she didn’t design the landscape obviously—but it just plays so well into so many of the pieces that she’s done with the icebergs. There’s a beauty to this. But there’s also a bit of horror because you realize in the images from the series that the water’s missing.”

Pointing out the one image in the exhibition in which humans appear, Abait describes how they are very small next to the landscape they have been inserted into.

“I like to play with this contrast between the macrocosm and the microcosm,” Abait said. “You can see the tiny size of humans against this incredible majestic landscape and it makes you wonder how incredible it is that we are so tiny in the universe, and at the same time, we can create so much damage.”

The digital projection, “Aqua,” is another piece that Rapp is excited about having as part of the exhibit. Shown as a 37-foot outdoor projection in downtown LA in May 2021, Rapp said she became obsessed with the concept and the form. It has its own room in the gallery so people can experience it in its own environment. It is especially timely, she said, as reports come in that waterfalls around the world are drying up.

“There’s this really interesting tension between the digital simulation here of a waterfall and then knowing that something we have taken for granted probably from the beginning of time as a miracle of Mother Nature is disappearing,” Rapp said.

Abait used mapping software to ensure that “Aqua,” which is a site-specific installation, fit in the 20-foot high space of the Laband. The alterations, she said, were slight, just enough to make sure it worked in the new space.

Because the Laband Gallery is at LMU, Rapp said they can have programming surrounding the exhibition that involves a variety of people from dance professors to student organizations to experts in engineering and environmental science.

“It’s always this wonderful kind of ripple effect,” Rapp said. “I can take art out of what many people would consider to be a formal environment of decoration and put it in a context of education and innovation and have Luciana’s work appreciated from all these different perspectives."

Rapp recognizes that an art exhibit alone isn’t going to save the planet. She paraphrased Hans Ulrich Obrist, a Swiss art curator and the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. He was curating a show about the precarious environment interpreted by international artists. He said that art is not able to solve these problems—that’s not the role of art. But having poets and musicians and visual artists come together with scientists, politicians and administrators forms the collaboration needed to address any kind of solutions.

“This is an invitation to have conversations,” Rapp said. It was part of what inspired them to put the map sculpture at the very beginning of the exhibition. 

“Luciana and I wanted it to be confrontational and wanted it to be the first thing that you practically step on when you walk through the doors to really think about the actions of a country like the United States and other countries that are really the majority polluters of the world are affecting the lives of other people in the most remote places…art teaches people how relationships function.”

Abait added that she doesn’t want to leave people in despair or thinking that nothing can be done. She said she heard a scientist say that if they if they tell people that there's no hope, that the environment is doomed, then no one will do anything to create change or do try to make things better.

“If we inspire people, if we give people hope, people will keep on fighting and they will figure out ways to solve or try to solve the climate change problem,” Abait said. “I present the beauty of nature in such a majestic state and such a monumental state because I want to create that illusion with people, that moment of wonder, that sense of being transported into a beautiful new universe and to create that sense of hope.

“I’m not going to be the person who’s going to change the world and the universe, but I’m trying to contribute what I can as an artist and give that hope with my work.”  

“Luciana Abait: On the Verge”

WHEN: Through Dec. 10

WHERE: Laband Art Gallery, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles