Kimball Art Center completes the year-long exhibition project Between Life and Land with the closing chapter entitled Crisis.
PARK CITY, UT—Exploring the human relationship with and impact on land is not a journey to be relegated to the science sector alone. Since December 2022, Kimball Art Center has investigated these connections and relationships through an artist’s lens, including a third and final iteration of the year-long exhibition series Between Life and Land currently on view at the Park City, Utah gallery.
KAC diverged from its typical curatorial approach for its Between Life and Land series, which comprises three back-to-back-to-back group shows. The individual exhibitions have offered differing perspectives on how to live sustainably and harmoniously with the earth.
In the previous two installments—Between Life and Land: Material and Between Life and Land: Identity—numerous artists examined material and identity concepts pertaining to human interaction with land. These two chapters allowed viewers to familiarize themselves with the formation and evolution of this complex relationship. In the current and final chapter—Between Life and Land: Crisis—thirteen artists address the current emergent state of our environment and perhaps offer hope for the future.
A work that acts as the foundation to Crisis—which is scheduled to remain on view through October 29, 2023—is Going to Water (2021), a video installation by Postcommodity that offers visitors an ominous precedent for the fate of the Great Salt Lake, which currently hangs in the balance. Going to Water, a piece that the well-known art collective created as a result of a Kimball Art Center residency, comprises archived government surveillance footage of a California valley, with Owens Lake at its center, that previously housed a thriving Indigenous community. The lakebed has been dry since its water was diverted in 1926 to accommodate Los Angeles’ growing population. Despite today’s residual beauty, the lakebed acts as a toxic dust bowl—carcinogenic dust storms detrimentally affect its residents and adjacent communities. Postcommodity explores this dichotomy by creating a haunting soundtrack for the circulating picturesque footage of Owens Valley, which sits on the western edge of the Great Basin in eastern California.
Going to the Water doesn’t necessarily set a somber tone for the exhibition, but rather one steeped in urgency. Building off this work’s foundation, the other participating artists offer works examining our interdependence with the land and species around us. Though the works vary greatly in material and style, there are throughlines of a healing focus, and an imperativeness of action throughout.
One artist in particular, Tiana Birrell, made the presentation of facts the focus of her work when selected for the Crisis chapter. Birrell boasts degrees in both the sciences and the arts, making her particularly qualified to contribute to a show sitting at this intersection.
Birrell’s The Cloud Cycle (2023) is an informational banner that considers an environmental factor not often considered—the sustainability implications of our digital footprint. Think adult science fair poster infused with the creative touch of an artist. The inspiration came from her communications with fellow researchers.
“I’ve found in communicating with those in the field of science, the biggest roadblock for them is the issue of how to best present their data,” Birrell notes. In speaking of the often-isolated worlds of science and art, Birrell wonders, “How do we bridge these gaps? How do we cross-pollinate?” Her solution to these questions was to exist in the in-between. Rather than jumping from artist to researcher, she chose to present her research in a visually interesting way, in hopes of reaching those who may not gravitate towards scientific data alone.
The Between Life and Land exhibition model has proved to be successful, according to Kimball Art Center curator Nancy Stoaks, who underpinned the need to shift to a new approach to allow enough time for a subject of this magnitude.
“We wanted to devote an entire year to thinking about that relationship while providing this framework in which each chapter entered into that question from a different starting point and a different set of histories,” Stoaks says.
In reference to selecting the Material, Identity, and Crisis prompts, Stoaks explains that these larger underlying themes showed themselves while KAC was exploring artists for the project. Because of subject matter commonalities, it’s fair to assume any rotation of the three chapters would have worked, but ending with Crisis was a pointed decision. The hope is that the first two iterations provided visitors with an investment in the conversation, and the last will spark a readiness to think about approaching the crisis in productive ways.
By carefully selecting forward-thinking artists, the Kimball Art Center finishes its multi-show experience with a triumphant biennale. In anticipation of the feelings the works are sure to stir, the KAC had a unique opening reception complete with local non-profits—including Recycle Utah, Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, Summit Community Gardens and EATS, Spoil to Soil, and Summit Land Conservancy—offering information and guidance on getting involved locally. KAC and the exhibiting artists hope that presenting earnest information through the voices of artists may impact a new audience.