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Liz Larner: The Horrific Beauty of Plastic Polluted Sea Foam and Asteroids Meeting on Earth at Regen Projects

Installation view of Liz Larner As Stars and Seas Entwine at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, March 27 – May 22, 2021. Photo: Evan Bedford, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Liz Larner: As Stars and Seas Entwine

Regen Projects

March 27 through May 22, 2021

By LITA BARRIE, May 2021 

In Liz Larner’s magnificent eighth solo exhibition at Regen Projects, As Stars and Seas Entwine, she not only explores dystopian aesthetics, but exhales the pathos of asteroids falling to Earth colliding with plastic pollution which threatens oceans. Her research-based sculpture is informed by her environmental awareness and aesthetic understanding of the way a sculpture can define the gallery space it occupies and transforms the viewer's perception of that space into a strangely bewildering plastic pacific paradise. 

The centerpiece of this installation is a large-scale floor sculpture, Meerschaum Drift, made from plastic detritus. This collection of water bottles, food trays and containers is tied together with zip ties and transformed by iridescent, pearlescent hues of plastic-derived acrylic paint; these oceanic blues, cyans, greens and whites create moving curves and crests that mimic the ebb and flow of glistening sea foam.  Nine glazed ceramic sculptures that resemble asteroids fallen to Earth create a stark contrast between the solidity of clay and the ephemerality of sea foam, the ancient history of ceramics and contemporary plastic culture. This consumer waste is exponentially present: it endangers our oceans, marine mammals, seabirds, fish, and enters our bodies through food, which causes cancer and auto-immune diseases. 

Installation view of Liz Larner As Stars and Seas Entwine at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, March 27 – May 22, 2021. Photo: Evan Bedford, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Larner’s current work with plastic refuse is a continuation of her ongoing investigation into the aesthetic possibilities of non-traditional materials - recalling Eva Hesse. Collected over three years, she uses these waste items to explore the definitive qualities of formalist sculpture - interconnecting line and material substance, volume and mass, to create positive and negative space. In this exhibition, Larner has transitioned from exploring the aesthetic possibilities of natural materials to exploring the aesthetic possibilities of plastic materials which endanger natural life.  

Larner also creates dazzling beauty from toxic waste in surprising ways that are simultaneously beguiling and horrifying. Her firing and glazing techniques create opportunities for chance occurrences that have interested her since the 1980s when she first began experimenting with petri dish cultures. She would allow bacteria to form naturally to explore decay and composition in entropic artworks she then would photograph. Her work has been exhibited internationally in major museums, including a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2001) and participation in the Whitney Biennial (2006). Larner has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (1999) and the Lucelia Artist Award from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (2002).

Installation view of Liz Larner As Stars and Seas Entwine at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, March 27 – May 22, 2021. Photo: Evan Bedford, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Beginning as an art photographer, the LA based artist  was influenced by the conceptual tenets of her teacher John Baldessari, when she studied at Cal Arts. Although Larner grew to prefer making things than photographing things she had made, her compositions are informed by her photographer’s eye. Larner's dramatic plays on scale in this exhibition shift from the jewel-like details of intricately painted pieces of debris carefully tied together to the entire composition of the installation, much like a camera’s zoom lens pulls out from an extreme close-up to a wide angle view.

Larner’s environmental meditation on the danger of plastic waste is also a meditation on the art of visual perception. With the concision of a poet, she distills a deep understanding of transformation processes based on decades of experimenting with different materials, colors and forms. Seldom have I seen an artist create poetic profundity with such visual precision. WM

Lita Barrie

Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.

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