Epicenter Projects: Inspired By a Crack in The Earth

By Kimberly Nichols - Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Epicenter Projects: Inspired By a Crack in The Earth

A few months back, in the ink black hours of night, if you were to drive down the lonely desert highway that weaves in and out of the Coachella Valley, you may have glimpsed a strange light scribing the topography of the mountains. If you had stopped your car, curious as to the origin of these crawling spider veins of this electric spectrum over the contours of rocky landscape, you may have encountered two men playing with lasers like two mad scientists.

Epicenter Projects: Inspired By a Crack in The Earth

A few months back, in the ink black hours of night, if you were to drive down the lonely desert highway that weaves in and out of the Coachella Valley, you may have glimpsed a strange light scribing the topography of the mountains. If you had stopped your car, curious as to the origin of these crawling spider veins of this electric spectrum over the contours of rocky landscape, you may have encountered two men playing with lasers like two mad scientists. You would have discovered they were in reality the Berlin-based artist Robert Seidel, working on his exhibition Magnitude while in residency for Epicenter Projects, and Epicenter Projects founder and curator Cristopher Cichocki. Taking artists out into the land at all hours of the day is par for the course for Cichocki. He started Epicenter Projects to give artists the opportunity to collaborate with the land, specifically the land he has come to call home which exists along the San Andreas Fault.

The San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault that extends roughly 810 miles through California as a continuous narrow break in the earth’s crust. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. The fault divides into three segments, each with different characteristics and a different degree of earthquake risk, the most significant being the southern segment, which passes within about 35 miles of Los Angeles. Mostly, it is a silent crack in the earth, its daily whispers visible as only the tiniest of tremors on the constantly calculating systems of the United States Geological Survey. Sometimes though, the stress builds up and a quake occurs. During my lifetime, as a resident of Southern California, this has happened under ten times, only a few of those resulting in serious damage.

Robert Seidel, Magnitude. Courtesy of Epicenter Projects

Robert Seidel Video: Magnitude

For the most part, residents of the San Jacinto portion, which covers the lower desert cities running from Palm Springs to Indio and the upper desert communities of Joshua Tree and the Morongo Valley, live their lives willingly at risk of this phenomenal rupture. But for Cichocki, its presence as well as the destructive potential of its existence, creates a fine outdoor canvas upon which artists can produce temporary works in dialogue with the very essence of fragility. It is this environment that serves as the conceptual foundation for the Epicenter Projects artist residencies providing a site-specific framework for fleeting, ephemeral works in the historical tradition of Land Art.

Cichocki is a successful Cal Arts-trained mid-career artist whose most iconic works have centered around the entropy and decay of the Salton Sea expressed through complex installations of neon painted dead fish and electric, emergency orange, cobalt blue and green hued tumbleweeds and other organic and non-organic materials found in the desert. With Epicenter Projects his role is to facilitate a dialogue between other artists and the boundless outdoor studio he’s come to cherish and wishes to continually spotlight. Each artist brings his or her own distinct voice, thought process and traditional mediums and then are free to explore the area, instinctually gathering from its raw materials, to further accentuate the creation of their own unique work central in continuing a conversation with the fault.

As a curator, Cichocki chooses most of the artists because they have demonstrated previous bodies of work through site-specific alignment with more temporal aspects. For Seidel, an internationally recognized artist working at the forefront of experimental film, video installation and environmental projection this meant bringing in a high powered laser that was connected in relationship to his computer that would generate algorithms to massage the size and scale of the mountains. This interplay was then photographed as a series of gorgeous and remarkable long-exposure drawings—a visual spectacle at the intersection of seismology and gestural chance.

Nicolas Shake, Nobody's Place. Courtesy of Epicenter Projects

Nicolas Shake Video: Humdrum Catastrophes

Prior residencies produced similarly stunning results. Los Angeles-based artist Nicolas Shake is known for extracting items discarded from the domestic interiors of surrounding communities and then assembling them into sculptural arrangements. In the desert for his Humdrum Catastrophes series this produced extraordinary still life scenes starring elements such as an abandoned dresser, a length of chain link fence, industrial tubing, palm fronds, wooden plans, trash and other detritus discarded around the periphery of suburbia and its vacant lots and sandy, stone-riddled fields. Lit starkly by multicolor in the evening, these produced a portfolio of striking long exposure photographs. According to Shake, in relation to the San Andreas Fault, catastrophic events are often perceived as abrupt, amplified incidents. In contrast, Shake’s work illustrates that catastrophes continually surround us as prolonged, seemingly distant events that take place on the territorial fringe of modern development. 

Filippo Minelli. Courtesy of Epicenter Projects

Filippo Minelli Video: Silence/Shapes: San Andreas Rupture

Another artist, the Milan, Italy-based Filippo Minelli, creates work situated on the fringe of photography, painting, sculpture and performance through the use of striking smoke forms that become transformative interventions onto public and private spaces. During his residency at Epicenter Projects, he orchestrated colored plumes of smoke to erupt from jutting fissures in the earth, creating billowing clouds lingering over the parched geology, voluminous in their sublime beauty and physical transcendence, which were then photographed before disappearing into the horizon line.

Although the temporary aspect of the work created reflects the underlying theme of ephemerality signature to Epicenter Projects’ core mission, Cichocki uses his master documentary skills to ensure the works’ inclusion into the annals of art history. The progressive output of the online exhibition format permits international access to the photographs and videos of process that mark each artist’s residency while providing historical documentation and context to the art at large. Epicenter Projects is in effect succeeding in making the impermanent permanent.

The roster for 2015-16 features eleven artists from five countries: Shiva Aliabadi, Patrick Gilbert, Luis G. Hernandez, John Knuth, Jane Chang Mi, Filippo Minelli, Olga Koumoundouros, Robert Seidel, Nicolas Shake, Melissa Thorne and Richard Twedt. View past projects and follow the forthcoming online exhibitions at www.epicenterprojects.com. 

Kimberly Nichols is an artist, writer, and social anthropologist in Los Angeles, California. Her conceptual works, literary fiction and creative nonfiction have been exhibited and published internationally. She is the author of the critically acclaimed collection of short stories Mad Anatomy (Del Sol Press, 2005) and is currently writing a second book.

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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