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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Artists spark hope and action to revitalize LA River

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So Hyun Chang

By So Hyun Chang
The author is an art critic and poet.

There’s an exciting exhibition opening this summer that is definitely worth checking out. “OUR RIVER: city floodplain” is a collaborative exhibition featuring 11 local artists who have come together to focus on the LA River. It’s expected to draw a lot of attention, and I’m personally thrilled and grateful for this initiative.

Many of you might wonder, “The LA River? What kind of river is there in LA?” while raising your eyebrows in surprise.

“Well, there is indeed an LA River,” I’d answer. “It’s a 51-mile long river that originates in the mountains of Los Angeles, winds through several communities, and flows downstream to Long Beach before reaching the ocean. The problem is that most people don’t know about it or simply don’t care.”

Such an explanation would likely lead to further bemusement. “Is that a river? It’s just a concrete channel! How can you call it a river when only a stream of water flows through it? It’s more like a creek or a ditch!”

Yes, you are correct. And that’s precisely where the artists’ plan comes into play. We need a river that truly feels like a river. We cannot allow the LA River to become a featureless “concrete wastewater system.” Living in a desert city, having a cooler and thriving river is even more essential.

Moreover, recent news of potential plans to cover the river with concrete has deeply disturbed these artists. Their dream is to restore the LA River to its natural state. Rather than artificially controlling the flow of water, they want to let it be what it is – a river of life, with clear and cool water, surrounded by flourishing trees and vegetation swaying in the breeze, where fish return to swim, and birds sing. They recognize that rivers are not only crucial for our survival but also an integral part of our city’s identity and history.

“LA River” by Sue Park

To bring this dream to life, the artists in this exhibition express concerns about the possibility of overly artificial redevelopment of the LA River by governmental agencies. The exhibition, curated by Shatto Gallery and prepared over the past year and a half by 11 artists led by David Eddington and Da Aie Park, takes a stand against such potential developments.

This exhibition is welcomed and appreciated for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s fantastic to witness artists actively addressing real-world issues, particularly those related to the environment. It’s essential for artists to consider the social function and role of art and collaborate on shared topics. In a reality where many artists focus solely on their individual thoughts and expressions, this collective effort and expression of concern are highly valuable. I eagerly anticipate the diverse voices that will emerge through the unique sculptures of all 11 artists.

Secondly, the role of the gallery is noteworthy. A gallery’s sense of community with its artists is highly desirable. While commercial galleries aim for profit, they should also be forward-thinking and actively contribute to the cultural growth of society. I’m grateful that Shatto Gallery has embraced this attitude and practices it actively.

In any case, the combined efforts of the artists and the gallery have resulted in a profoundly meaningful exhibition. Now, it’s up to the audience to complete the experience. I hope many people will attend and appreciate the works, using this space as a platform for public discussion to ponder the present and future of the LA River. Through art, a clear river will begin to flow coolly in our hearts as we share the burden and dream together.

The exhibition will be held at Shatto Gallery from August 12 to September 16.

“A Spring in the LA River” by David Eddington