This week we welcome Athena LaTocha, an artist whose massive works on paper explore the relationship between human-made and natural worlds, in the wake of Earthworks artists from the 1960s and 1970s. The artist, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, incorporates materials such as ink, lead, earth and wood, while looking at correlations between mark-marking and displacement of materials made by industrial equipment and natural events. Her works are inspired by her upbringing in the wilderness of Alaska. LaTocha’s process is about being immersed in these environments, while responding to the storied and, at times, traumatic cultural histories that are rooted in place.
We visited Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn this weekend to see a new monumental outdoor installation, The Remains of Winter, which combines dead trees from the cemetery that she has encased in thin sheets of lead. The lead seems to defy the physics of that material, resembling a shimmering shroud of draped fabric. This material was historically used in coffins to slow decomposition, in an allusion to the natural decay of all things. The trees themselves were slated for removal by the cemetery’s horticulture department because of age, damage, or disease. For the portion of the installation that is inside the Historic Chapel, an entire 30-foot tree will be laid to rest, from the entrance to the altar, with its canopy intact.
By creating sculptures with trees native to the landscape that is now Green-Wood, LaTocha is exploring the history of the cemetery and its caretakers. Trees, and organisms in the soil, as living things, carry years of memory within them and bear the markings of time. In particular, the work situated on Battle Hill, the highest natural point in Brooklyn, invites visitors to take in the sweeping views of Brooklyn, New York Harbor, Lower Manhattan and the centuries of human-made growth and development therein. The Remains of Winter considers the ways we might mourn and memorialize these shifts and changes, and points to larger conversations about ecological grief and the cataclysmic impact of climate change.
“Having grown up in Alaska, my understanding of the land was influenced by both the rugged monumentality of the terrain and the impact of the oil and gas industry upon the land. To this day, I feel a natural affinity for places and things that evoke those memories, such as the mountains and deserts of the southwest, and excavation sites and earthmoving equipment found in the industrial landscape.”
LaTocha has exhibited locally at BRIC House, the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, MoMA PS1, JDJ at the Ice House in Garrison, New York, as well as across the country at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, South Dakota State Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, and the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. LaTocha splits her time between Peekskill, New York, and New York City.
The Remains of Winter will be on view from Oct. 1 through Dec. 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Entry is free, though please consider a donation to the Green-Wood Historic Fund. No reservations are necessary. For more about Green-Wood, click here. For more about Athena LaTocha, click here.