As world leaders meet in Paris, artists work to turn the tide at home

By Christina Campodonico

Artist Patrick Haemmerlein combines pages from books and images rendered from his photography to explore the intersection of nature and industry Photo by Christina Campodonico

Artist Patrick Haemmerlein combines pages from books and images rendered from his photography to explore the intersection of nature and industry
Photo by Christina Campodonico

Can art impact climate change? The organizers of VisionLA ’15 think so.

The eco-themed L.A. arts festival, which coincides with the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Paris this week and next, kicked off Monday with a gala opening for the art exhibition “Art Makes Change” at the former Santa Monica Museum of Art building in Bergamot Station Art Center.

From film screenings to performance art, 80 events will take place in 32 different venues throughout Greater Los Angeles through Dec. 11. The show at Bergamot Station is one of four Vision LA ‘15 hubs and the festival’s Westside anchor.

VisionLA ’15 co-executive producer Cheryl Slean says she was inspired by the Paris-based ArtCOP21 festival coinciding with the U.N. talks. A theater artist and filmmaker, she thought L.A.’s arts scene was ripe for engagement in the discussion on climate change. If artists were already making art, why not harness that creative energy to enter into the dialogue?

“These are huge existential questions and very, very interesting questions for artists — the intersection of nurture and nature and how we depend on the environment to live,” muses Slean. “It’s a way of inviting people in to consider the many different aspects of the issue,
from whatever that [particular] artist’s perspective is.”

Slean teamed up with L.A. theater veteran Guy Zimmerman to tap a wider network of local artists. At first they expected the L.A. festival to be an  “aggregate” of preexisting work. Instead, a more organic grassroots effort unfolded as venues offered space for events, partnerships formed with environmental groups, and a multitude of artists and activists stepped in to volunteer and collaborate.

The result includes several free events on the Westside.

The Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center (681 Venice Blvd., Venice) is hosting a “Words to Save the World,” reading of eco-themed poetry and prose from 4 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5.

The Helms Design Center (8745 Washington Blvd., Culver City) is hosting a play and three documentary screenings. The play “Liquid Times,” staged at 3 p.m. on Dec. 6, is about two scientists whose research to solve global warming is threatened by terrorists and a tsunami on a remote Pacific Island. “Racing to Zero,” screening at 8 p.m. on Dec. 3, tracks San Francisco’s waste diversion efforts. “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” screening at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, documents efforts to connect L.A. to its water resources. “Standing on Sacred Ground” — a four-part documentary with chapters screening at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, 7, 8 and 9 — chronicles how indigenous peoples across the world are fighting for their native lands.

For the “Art Makes Change” visual arts exhibit at Bergamot, co-curators Dale Youngman and Lilli Muller received submissions from close to 100 artists. Youngman attributes artists’ interest in the festival to a heightened awareness of environmental issues such as California’s drought.

“It’s on everyone’s psyche right now. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone’s affected by the drought, and a lot of people are just very sensitive to the environment and how it affects our daily life,” says Youngman.

Muller thinks that artists are in a special position to address such problems because their works can have such a visceral impact on those who interact with it. An artist herself, Muller believes artists have a responsibility to shine a light on environmental issues.

“Art Makes Change” includes more than 200 pieces by 60 local artists that engage with climate change through four broadly defined environmental themes: earth, water, recycling and awareness.

The artists’ works are as diverse as the themes, but “it all tells one story,” says Youngman, as “they’re showing the beauty of the world that we need to protect.”

As it goes with art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but viewers may find the most pleasure in discovering the inventive ways that these artists have tackled environmental subjects in their work.

Pause over almost any piece, look closely and you may be surprised.

In one corner, a golden party wig on a mannequin head is actually made out of interlocking safety pins, linked together like shimmery strip of chainmail. Another seemingly tussled head of hair nearby is really a tangle of spray-painted toy soldiers.

A Rothko-esque looking canvas by Michael Hayden isn’t actually a flat plane with blocks of color, but a textured surface with planks of wood and crystalline bits fractured into glassy rubble.

Found objects like rusted gears and wooden skateboards are also mounted on the work. Other unusual materials employed by artists throughout the exhibition include coffee pigments in abstract paintings, old sheet music and torn-out book pages in collages, vintage radios in installations and even shredded tires fashioned into sculpture and jewelry.

Some artists take a more traditional approach, depicting wildlife and nature in paintings, drawings and photographs, but the compilation of artistic viewpoints makes for an eclectic mix.

From tire sculptures to photos of desiccated deserts, each artist discovers unexpected beauty in the things we discard and reveals the natural beauty of landscapes that we might take for granted.

Maybe art can change the world, one creative act at a time.

For a complete listing of festival events, visit