Beyond the Canvas
Kim Abeles' Smog Collectors
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
"The Smog Collectors materialize the reality of the air we breathe. I place cut, stencilled images on transparent or opaque plates or fabric, then leave these on the roof of my studio and let the particulate matter in the heavy air fall upon them. After a period of time, from four days to a month, the stencil is removed and the image is revealed in smog." - Kim Abeles
Since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned over 4 million acres in California, with 5,000 firefighters battling as many as 22 wildfires every day. It's a chilling record to which we need to add the human, i.e. the number of people evacuated and the millions breathing unhealthy air, as well as the incalculable animal toll.
Los Angeles-based artist Kim Abeles has been addressing the urgency and gravity of the environmental issue since she started her Smog Collectors series in 1987. This project began with portrait plates of US presidents, each with a stenciled picture of the men's face and a statement they made about the environment. The darker the face, the worse their record on the subject - Abeles made sure they were left outside in the polluted air for longer to reflect that.
Over 30 years later, Abeles returned to the Smog Collectors expanding their reach to the international level. This time the plates portray ten world leaders, and each of them is inscribed with a quote from their speeches at the world climate summits held between 2011 and 2018. These gold-rimmed plates, made in the guise of tacky souvenirs, carry a sobering message. The leaders may be smiling, but how many of the promises they made did they keep? What is their legacy going to be? These plates are a call to action, a reminder that a lot has been said, but not enough has been done. These plates, covered in soot, words and truth, demand accountability.
Special thank you to my dear friend Alice-May for introducing me to this artist and her compelling work.
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The 10 most powerful world leaders and their statements in smog (2019-2020)
Photos courtesy of the artist