The latest works from Pam Longobardi’s Drifters Project will drift home this month from their last showing in Venice, Italy to an exciting gallery and rooftop exhibition entitled Material Drift at the Sandler Hudson Gallery Project Room in Atlanta, Georgia. Like the marine debris used to create Longobardi’s art, items collected off the beaches along South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii, her work has traveled many miles, and crossed many oceans bringing awareness on the trashing of our oceans to people all over the globe. On May 21st, Material Drift will open right here in the US with an artist’s reception from 6-8 PM and will run through July 3rd, 2010.
The exhibition is being held in celebration of Longobardi’s new book from the Italian publisher, CHARTA, entitled, Drifters. This 96 page book with 68 illustrations, including essays by Longobardi, Carl Safina, Ron Broglio, and others is now on sale. A book signing and artist’s talk is also scheduled for June 3rd from 6-7:30 PM as part of the exhibition events.
According to the press release, Material Drift probes a step deeper into the artist’s obsession with the material detritus of contemporary disposable consumer culture. In photographic portraits and individual pieces of debris mined from the rubble fields of plastic on remote shores and large scale imagistic metaphors in the form of wall and roof installations, Longobardi reveals the poignant status of a world gone plastic. She documents this tangible archeology by both photography and real artifacts that have traversed the open seas. The roof installation is a recreation of Panthalassa shown most recently in the collateral exhibition of Arte Visivi of the 2009 Venice Biennale at ArtLife Gallery in Venice.
Longobardi’s passion for our oceans was obvious upon our meeting in 2007, while I was helping with an installation at the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg, Virginia. She and I bonded over our common interests. I was wearing a piece of beach glass jewelry I had made from glass collected off the same pilings of debris on the South Point Beach in Hawaii.The debris used to make both of our creations was caught by the craggy lava rock shores of The Big Island as it drifted past on its way to the North Pacific Gyre, a large floating mass of waste now reported to be larger than the continental United States.
When I met Longobardi, she was working to put together her Eye Test Chart: Color Blindness installation and through serendipity, we realized we held similar beliefs about art. Longobardi, like me, believes “…artwork can function to raise awareness and transform behavior, while providing provocative visual delight.” We both believe art can serve to bring awareness to others on the need to realize our impact on the world’s oceans and create positive change.
On the day we met, Longobardi spoke of her interest in surfing, and shared with me a common reason for our interest in the world’s oceans. She said, “We all started off in the ocean. It is the source of life on this planet.” She says, “The ocean functions symbolically as the unconscious of the world – the ‘formless.’ The regurgitating ocean now spews forth all manner of plastic materiality.”
We both shared the same experience of feeling “stunned” when we first saw the huge piles of colorful nets and tangles of debris that had drifted ashore on the southern-most tip of the United States. Like me, Longobardi was immediately compelled to begin cleaning up the mess. She says, “Now, every time I go back I carry out as much as I can, like a small beach cleaning.” She takes extra, empty suitcases and stuffs them full to ship them back to her studio in Atlanta. Once home, she begins sifting through the items, what she calls, “artifacts of culture,” and pulls them back into our world culture in the creation of her visually stunning artworks.
Longobardi says her Drifters Project “focuses on the global issue of marine debris and plastics in the ocean” because she wants to “address the interconnectedness of the land and sea, between humans and the ocean biosphere.” She says she has always been interested in the environment, discovering in a childhood diary the three things she was thankful for: nature, animals, and her home. She continues her interest in environmental topics and has found a “focus [with her art] that has come to the foreground as awareness of climate change, extinction and human impact has become more urgent.”
Suzi Gablik called Longobardi’s found items from the beaches and oceans “fragments…all heavy with rabid meaning.” Gablik goes on to say, “It’s the dangerous, degrading aspect of plastic that powers Longobardi’s work, the crushing devastation hidden inside its gaudy allure.” Longobardi says the plastic in her works “carry a message of our need to connect our activities and habits with their impact on the world ocean.” She sees the debris “as a portrait of late-capitalist consumer society. The plastic elements at first seem attractive and innocuous, like toys… the plastic seems innocent and fun, but it is not. It is dangerous.”
Her role as an artist in presenting her work is what she calls “an intervention.” One in which she both physically removes plastic
artifacts from the oceans and beaches and brings them back to “their point of origin,” back into the cultural realm to be re-examined while she also then freezes their evolution or “devolution” when she takes them back out of the natural environment and holds them up in front of us. She chooses to use highly recognizable daily items common the world over, things like toothbrushes, combs and lighters, because she feels they function as “a mirror in front of the viewer in that one can recognize the self and one’s own participation in the creation of the materiality.”
Longobardi reminds us that “Every single action has a consequence. We can’t go on unaware of that anymore. It’s a global problem that ties together everything, existence, convenience, economy, our health. We need our smartest people putting their minds together to make a change to our attitudes.” She is surely doing her part to show this need to cultures around the globe, having been invited to exhibit works around the US, Europe, China, and Hawaii to name a few locales. A current Professor of Art at Georgia State University in Atlanta, she has received numerous awards and fellowships including that of Outstanding Faculty Achievement from the University.
Her work has become part of permanent public and private collections across the US, and she has received numerous major commissions including works for the Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, the Hyatt Corporation, and the First Tennessee Bank in Memphis. She was recently invited to participate in a residency at NY Arts/Beijing as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She has work in permanent collections at US Museums and has been shown in over thirty solo exhibitions.
Carl Safina calls Longobardi’s work “witness, and invitation to share. She gives us a wake up call, a call to action, a call for change. Her work is art. And the work that art must do is to steer our attention into the path of the coming truth.” Pam Longobardi wields great talent and aptitude for showing us the unwanted truths about the devastating consequences of our reliance on plastics in a throw-away, consumer society. You simply cannot view one of her installations without being at once awed by the beauty of her work, and shocked to realize your own part in its making. I highly recommend you take the time to see Longobardi’s work in person this spring.
The Sandler Hudson Gallery is located at 1009 Marietta Street Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30318-5505. For more information on the upcoming exhibition, visit www.sandlerhudson.com, or call (404)817-3300. For more on the North Pacific Gyre and the growing crisis of plastic in our oceans, check out my earlier story on Longobardi, “The Trashing of the Ocean.” For more information on the artist or to purchase a copy of her new book Drifters, visit www.pamlongobardi.com .
All photos provided by Pam Longobardi. Special thanks to Pam for her work to help save our oceans!