In the artist’s own words:
“The Political Landscape continues my recent exploration of contemporary issues associated with the genre of landscape. It focuses on contentious locations where countries and corporations are willing to cause environmental degradation or human rights violations for the purpose of attaining or maintaining power. One of the earliest functions of the landscape picture has been to provide evidence of ownership; in this project I aim to reveal the abuse of ownership. For the exhibition, I have made two different projects that focus on two different sites in the American West: public land in the state of Utah and the Mexican/American border.”
In her 2010 show, the Political Landscape, Andrea Bowers demonstrates her relentless commitment to using her artwork as a tool in implementing social activism. Through this piece, Bowers draws attention to individuals within the political context of an ideological issue; the numerous pieces in the exhibit, both drawings and videos, document the lives of these individuals and consequently humanize a political issue for an audience that may not otherwise be able to appreciate its gravity. She elaborates:
“First of all I should explain that one strategy that I use in my work is photorealist drawing. In the current exhibition, I made a series of black and white pencil drawings of protesters at the recent Mayday March here in Los Angeles. Each drawing contains a protester holding a sign or wearing a slogan somewhere on their clothing. I am focusing on their political position at that particular moment. I’m choosing to honor these individuals in my drawings because I agree with the political ideologies they’re promoting and I think that these political subjects should be apart of historical discourse as well as art discourse.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition entitled No Olvidado (Not Forgotten) is comprised of 23 graphite drawings, 50” x 120” each, which dominates an entire corner of the gallery. The artist explains the piece:
“The piece acts as a memorial honoring those who have died crossing the Mexican/American border. Unlike most memorials, this is an incomplete list and will always remain that way no matter how many names are added or collected. So many people that have died migrating to the U.S. from Mexico over the years will never be identified. The list of immigrant deaths comes from the organization Border Angels, whose mission is to stop unnecessary deaths of individuals traveling through the Imperial Valley desert region and the mountains surrounding San Diego County, as well as the area located around the Mexican/American border. A high percentage of these unnecessary deaths have been the result of extreme weather conditions, while some have, sadly, been the results of racial discrimination crimes. The Vietnam Memorial is government sanctioned and paid for—I wanted to make this memorial because I don’t believe the government would ever sanction and pay for a memorial like this.”
Through No Olvidado, as with the rest of the pieces in the show, Bowers exposes a highly contentious political issue to a possibly un-political audience. In using art as the medium for expressing her ideology, she exposes the ideas to individuals that may not otherwise be educated, and simultaneously highlights the individual to make the political context even more relatable to each individual viewer. “No Olvidado serves as a deliberately fragile and transient monument to the marginalized and forgotten, a surrogate for voices mostly consigned to oblivion by a society that finds their presence unsettling and inconvenient” (The Art and Activism of Andrea Bowers).
The second element of the exhibition features a video titled The United States v. Tim DeChristopher 2010, in which an environmental activist activist Tim DeChristopher discusses his his sabotage of a government movement to sell 150,000 acres of pristine public land in Utah to be drilled for oil and gas. In December 2008, DeChristopher bid for and 22,000 acres of land near Arches National Park and Labyrinth Canyon worth $1.8 million — and then announced that he had neither the intention nor the money to pay for them. He was soon arrested and many of the leases were subsequently cancelled. But for DeChristopher, there have been serious consequences, as he was charged with making false statements and interfering with an auction. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of $750,000. The trial began 3 days after the opening of The Political Landscape, and Bowers’s video includes an interview with DeChristopher and footage of the artist walking through the parcels of land that the activist won in the auction. Bowers herself is also featured in the video, and plays a role in which she both visibly and symbolically block the land from sight (and consequently from public use), thus demonstrating the simplicity of the transition of public land into private exploitation.
Moreover, in relation to the exhibit, Bowers also hosted a series of activist activities to educate her audiences on the political context behind her work and simultaneously promote participation in direct political action. The exhibit is powerful through the art alone, but reaches the next level of promoting action rather than just exposing and educating and audience through the associated activist events.
To view the complete images of works from the exhibit: Susan Vielmetter Gallery
For the complete interview with the artist: A Conversation with Andrea Bowers
A comprehensive critique of the exhibition: The Art and Activism of Andrea Bowers