The Spine of the Earth
In October of last year an unprecedented six-month project opened across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980 is a collaborative series of exhibitions and performances that for the first time create a coherent narrative for the birth of the Los Angeles art scene. Organized and funded in large part by the Getty Research Institute and Getty Trust, respectively, the enormous festival include the work of 1300 artists in 68 museum exhibitions and 70 gallery shows. It covers everything from Pop Art to modernist architectur e, the rise of installation and multi-media art, Chicano and African-American art movements, and artists’ collectives such as the Woman’s Building.
A unique segment of “PST” was the 11-day festival of performance and public art that had artists recreating, reinterpreting, and re-envisioning seminal events from the past as well as creating new works. Artists such as Eleanor Antin, Judy Chicago, Suzanne Lacy, Robert Wilhite, and James Turrell installed and performed work. Among them was Lita Albuquerque, who made what amounted to the second part of an earthwork first done in 1980 on the El Mirage Dry Lake bed in the Mojave north of Los Angeles. Spine of the Earth was an ephemeral land art drawing created by Lita and executed with the help of art students from Long Beach State University. The work was executed as a choreographed performance piece in red, yellow, and black pigment, a design that connected heaven earth through geometrical forms oriented to celestial events. More than 600 feet in diameter, the work could be seen in its entirety only from the air, a physical circumstance that reinforced the connection of sky to ground. The central figure of the work was a red spiral, a traditional form used worldwide in rock art, as well as by artists such as Robert Smithson.
For the new work, Albuquerque assembled more than 300 people in red jumpsuits atop the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, which stands in between the Los Angeles International Airport and Culver City. Spine of the Earth 2011 commenced movement when a skydiver jumped from 3,000 feet above the site and plummeted downward, trailing a plume of red smoke, and landing on a hilltop target. Her landing in the middle of the spiral initiated its unspooling, which proceeded down the steep stone steps connecting the top of the hills to the plain below.
Once again the work could only be perceived in totality from above, which is where photographer Michael Light and I were circling in a helicopter anywhere from 1000-1500 feet above the performance. The red human spiral was last used by Albuquerque in the Antarctic for her Stellar Axis project, the records from which reside in the CA+E Archive Collections. Both projects will be included in the book that we’re publishing about Albuquerque’s work that we’ll be publishing with Skira Rizzoli in 2014.