The installations of James Gilbert – an artist from Los Angeles – frequently contain stocks of pink and purple sandbags along with structures of timber. We find this strange and striking visual pattern in at least three major projects: Sledgehammer. Bullet. Bomb., Leave Me Like You Found Me and A Historic Point of Interest and Other Landmarks. The main themes here, writes the artist, are “natural disasters”, “the destruction of architecture” and “the relationship of objects to cultural heritage and individual identity”.
We see no cracked land or excessive water, no destroyed monuments or ruined artifacts. Rather, the phenomena of loss and catastrophe are conveyed through symbols suggesting response – or perhaps preparation? The bright colours could speak of an active and energetic will in the face of damage and danger. Interpreted on a psychological level, the installations could make us consider and reflect upon the reality of our personal support systems – as in the people and resources that keep us safe and secure on a daily basis.
James elaborates on his work: “Natural disasters and accidents are inevitable but it is human aggression where we experience the loss of art, architecture and historical sites that are neither designed nor intends to be destroyed. To deliberately eradicate identity is to eradicate art and objects of symbolic meaning. We have witnessed systematic destruction of heritage as an attempt to destroy cultural diversity through religious or ideological reasoning, political agenda, activism or cultural curation.
“I wanted to reimagine an object that is simultaneously a symbol and protectant. When building protective barricades for fortification in front of and around culturally significant objects, artifacts and architecture they then become the new identity and description for the object they are protecting. Through the use of common art making materials: paint, canvas, marble and wood, they are reinterpreted as devices to defend, deter or lessen destruction but also form a new autonomous work to be visited, viewed and contemplated.”
How did the artist decide on his specific code of sandbags, wood frames and pink-purple? “I was looking at World War I trench art,” he explains, “which led me to start looking at pictures from World War II. Something that kept coming up were cathedrals or monuments or frescos: they have these sandbags in front of them, protecting them from bombing. And so it occurred to me that these things that were protecting were actually becoming a new symbol for what was behind them. This was how Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco, The Last Supper, was protected and survived the bombing of Santa Maria delle Grazie in August, 1943.
“I like the idea that these things that are protecting it are the symbol and then we move them off, and then they become their own individual kind of piece. And so what I do is I take the sandbags and the buttress and I move it to the center of the room with these architectural elements, which has kind of this phony structure to hold it up, but also it becomes like a color-field painting.”
James Gilbert’s work has been reviewed in the publications ArtForum, Artillery, Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post and Sculpture Magazine and exhibited in the United States, China, South Korea, Colombia and Denmark. Recent venues include the PYO Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Manhattan Beach Art Center (Manhattan Beach, CA), LA Art Show (Los Angeles, CA) and San Diego Art Institute (San Diego, CA) and LeStudio (Paris, France).
Images used with permission.
Sledgehammer. Bullet. Bomb.