Like Drowning in Asphalt

Posted October 17, 2007 in Arts & Culture

 The first impression one has when standing in the midst of the Wignall Museum’s new Invisible Trajectories: Passing through the Inland Empire exhibit can be summed up in three letters: T.M.I.

That’s not to say the show is the least bit titillating. No, no—the information it offers is “too much” by virtue of its sheer volume, not juiciness, of detail.

Trajectories is a multimedia exploratory journey into the past, present and future of our very own Inland Empire. Delving deep into the IE’s sprawling economic and population “boom,” the exhibit is laced with a foreboding sense that a “bust”—most likely in the form of an energy and/or population crisis—is very near on the horizon. That’s an important message, no doubt. And just to make sure you don’t miss it, artists Claude Willey, Deena Capparelli and Mark Tsang have used every inch of gallery space, papering the walls with a glut of hand-painted maps, floor-to-ceiling blog postings, authorial quotes and photographs. As if all that weren’t enough, the show is also accompanied by an explanatory brochure that’s about five times as long as this review will be.

In short, Trajectories is a layered, congested tangle, a big fat mesmerizing mess—which, come to think of it, is a lot like the IE itself. So while the show can be faulted for overkill, it’s still interesting enough to provoke new thought, and to spark some much-needed conversations about the many unresolved transportation and development issues in the IE.

Predictably, “sprawl” is a key word in Trajectories. The artists write that, in recent decades especially, the IE grew “like a salad spinner out of control.” Their photographs communicate the paradoxical desolateness that accompanies this kind of growth pattern. Many familiar sights fill their photo journals: endless rows of identical stucco houses, freshly-laid sidewalks leading seemingly to nowhere, chain-link fences crowned with barbed wire, empty buses, blocked roads, fenced-in fields, and of course the ubiquitous orange construction signs. Everywhere you look, the loose/dead ends of sprawl seem to point to a larger “dead end” for the whole crazy geographical experiment that is the IE.

Another closely-related focus of the exhibit is the “landscape of the automobile,” the freeways and parking lots that cover the region’s topography like so many rivers and lakes. The IE’s road system, which now includes nine major freeways, is both overwhelming and overwhelmed, at pains to keep up with the breakneck pace of the region’s growth. Those of us who drive these freeways already know this. But what Invisible Trajectories points out is the coming collision between the region’s current land-use patterns—which are hopelessly dependent on the automobile—and the inevitable outstripping of Earth’s petroleum resources, a dilemma which may or may not be resolved by the Promised Land of alternative energies.

In all, the outlook is dim, and only partially illuminated by Trajectories. The show comes very close to drowning the viewer in a sea of information. But it’s like they teach you in swimming class: don’t panic, and you’ll come out all right. You might even learn a thing or two about survival.


Invisible Trajectories at the Wignall Museum at Chaffey College, 5885 Haven Ave., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 941-2702; (click for a vastly detailed explanation of the show). Free. Thru March 3.

Many events are planned around the Invisible Trajectories exhibit, including a February 24 bicycle ride from Altadena to the Wignall Museum, with stops in Claremont, Upland and Alta Loma. Call (909) 989-4263 for details, or click on the web site.


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