Culture Clashing

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Posted January 31, 2008 in Arts & Culture

The sprawling landscape of the Inland Empire is home to a hybrid of little battles—metropolitan refurbishments vs. historical architecture, mass-produced subdivisions vs. untamable nature, and people—aboriginals and transplants all jockeying for position. The Wignall’s current treatise on these escalating events, Inlandia, depicts the tumultuousness in the minute serenity found in real life—we move slowly, even when in progress, even when in regress, although often times it seems the world is a giant cement mixer in which we are dipping our trembling toes.

The one thing that IE land developers love (and we think must internally hate) is unsculptured land. Sant Khalsa’s gelatin silver transparencies of trees—like black and white photographs wedged between planks of real wood—might give them fits of fury: chop, chop, chop! They’re sad little things really: skinny trees and spindly branches biding their time—victims or obstacles, depending on your POV. Indeed, Khalsa’s Paving Paradise series of photos show some of this later clash—floods below Prado Dam taking a home out as it’s spoil, the Santa Ana roaring along in season and a homeless campsite in an off one, naked trees from the Old Fire near Devil’s Canyon and the man-dammed Big Bear Lake during drought. Humans taming nature? Here’s your counter-argument.

In contrast to the colors of nature, Adam Belts’ Subdivision pieces are stark white—white tape, white paper, white acrylic and white squares glued on top in domino-housing projects that one might see when entering a developer’s on-site sales office to ante up a down payment. On the floor beneath these framed diagrams, Belt has recreated a three dimensional model, with a swirling tide pool in the center spilling out into surrounding areas. White, white, white! How apropos.

The roar of dry Santa Ana winds takes over once again, however, when standing in front of Samantha Field’s monolith acrylics of forest fires. Softly smoky in gusts of burning orange and browns, they’re captivating in that same beautiful-horrible way that transfixes us when we gaze at the real thing but don’t comment for fear of sounding callous or like a potential pyro. 

The darkness continues, without violence or loss, in Kimi Kolba’s ultrachrome prints on aluminum—remote homes (yes, there are still some!) nestled quietly in the pitch of night, the only illuminations a dim window light and the subtle glow off the horizon of a hidden city. Just as if you were really sitting on a hill in that midnight landscape, the eyes soon adjust, making out veiny bush tops and branches. All that’s missing are the sounds of foraging creatures and chirping bugs, yet, you might think you actually hear them.

Misty Cervantes’ series of Hispanic tough guys and their women brings people into the mix—evoking depth, family and thoughtfulness that doesn’t usually spring to mind when seeing a tatted-up, bald hombre on the street. And Thomas McGovern gives us the wrestling side of the IE: mainstream in a portrait of EWF’s Steve Masters and an adoring housewife fan, and fringe in his Nacho Libre masked maulers. But it is in Edith Abeyta’s E-M-P-I-R-E human-fabric collages that we find a real breadth of IE inhabitants.

Soliciting clothing donations through advertisements and flyers, Abeyta is creating a living, in-motion exhibit with photos of the donors and brief text explaining the clothing—articles she cuts into letters that spell out “empire.” One woman donated her father’s gold, towel-like robe that she kept after he died, yet had no idea what to do with it until reading Abeyta’s ad. The Nguyen family is too poor to buy clothes but have an abundance of them thanks to generous and wealthy relatives. A dress someone’s mother wore as she battled cancer and lost is collaged, the text revealing that until the very end this woman took pride in the fact that she fit into something so small. These narratives give brief glimpses into the psyches of donors and their families, a personal narrative of clothing, that is Abeyta’s focal point: how some of us use clothes as a symbol of who we’d like to become and how others utilize it merely out of function. The clothing, like our own flesh, is constantly being created and discarded in an endless cycle of life.

Margarita Cabrera is also concerned with the human cycle in the IE—in particular the immigration of those coming to carve out better lives for themselves. Her craftwork, stitching together items out of vinyl that are carried across the border by undocumented families, turns that hotly debated philosophical rumination intensely personal. This is his wallet; he’s a real person. Her piece-de-resistance, a life-sized cactus made from border patrol uniforms, seems to even drive home the main point of the Inlandia exhibit: do we create our surroundings or do we emulate them? Who will win this raging battle is yet to be seen.

Inlandia at the Wignall Museum at Chaffey College, 5885 Haven Ave., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 652-6492; www.chaffey.edu/wignall. Open Mon.–Fri., 10AM–4PM; Sat., noon–4PM. Thru March 1. Free.

 


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