Inspired by Dixie Fire, then Caldor Fire, ‘ephemeral’ artist promotes conservation efforts out-of-state
Smoke clouds muted the sun on Richard Vivenzio’s trip to see family in Tahoe this July.
Inspired by the Dixie Fire’s pollution, Brooklyn-based artist Vivenzio headed to the lake’s east side to devise a 3-D installation meant to spark intentional thought and collective action in response to people’s detrimental impact on the earth’s climate.
The artist just sold a picture of the piece — entitled “Flammagentus Beacon” — two weeks ago through the Williamsburg Art and Historic Center.
The material’s used in “Flammagentus Beacon” were a balloon, smoke, string, rock and the natural setting of Chimney Beach, located on Lake Tahoe’s Nevada side.
In “a bleak picture of a balloon coming over waterline,” it is not immediately clear where the transparent latex separates the contained cloud from an ashy horizon.
The piece itself was deconstructed and removed from its staging site, Vivenzio said, as his intention is not to perpetuate the issue his art is intended to critique.
“I don’t want to be the cause of the problem with making the work,” Vivenzio said.
According to his artist statement, Vivenzio features balloons in water because the object “is loaded with preconceived notions of joy, playfulness and childhood,” and is made up of a significant ocean pollutant — plastic.
Ash fell like snow, Vivenzio said, on his trip out to Tahoe in August. Originally from Rhode Island, he was visiting his girlfriend’s sister Jessica Fenton and her family in North Lake Tahoe when he first saw the trauma of a discolored sky firsthand.
“It was insane,” Vivenzio said. “It was flakes of snow to me, but it looked like ash. I never experienced anything like that. I had to make something.”
Vivenzio took a picture of the piece because of his medium’s necessarily transitory nature.
“The work is ephemeral — I make it, I document and then I remove everything from the environment,” Vivenzio said. “That’s what the work is kind of about — it’s about highlighting these problems we have with pollution and use of plastic and the climate.”
Fenton was eager to show her family the beauty of the region, although smoke from the Dixie Fire ebbed and flowed above Donner Summit in the days preceding their Aug. 14 arrival. The Caldor Fire started that day, Fenton said.
“It is hard enough describing and understanding the epic scope of Lake Tahoe on a clear day just by sitting on the shore and looking out,” Fenton said, “but it felt almost impossible while you could barely see … right in front of you.”
Fenton said the Air Quality Index was over 200, and Vivenzio told her that the smoke felt like a familiar east coast fog.
On one of their family vacation days, Fenton said she overheard her little sister telling someone that they went to “a different lake” because the body of water and mountains surrounding it looked so different based off the change in smoke.
Fenton said the Caldor Fire started to get really scary the week her guests left.
“The evacuation orders came as close to us as Homewood, five miles down the West Shore from our house,” Fenton said. By this time, the AQI was even higher.
Vivenzio said he wants to create captivating images that draw people’s attention to the environment to make changes in their lives.
“Fine art — I look at it as a mirror of showing the reflection of what’s going on right now in the world in society,” Vivenzio explained.
Vivenzio said when artists create pieces that capture the eye, it inadvertently invites the audience to learn the story why the artist made it and what the medium is.
“I want to use my skill to create captivating images to draw people’s attention to the environment to make changes to their lives,” Vivenzio said.
Vivenzio said he believes in the power of stimulating interesting people to respond to the crises the collective is currently enduring.
The picture is featured in the Williamsburg Art and Historic Center in Brooklyn in a show the curator called “America the Beautiful: The Real & the Imagined.” According to the gallery’s website, owner-curator Yuko Nii’s experience and life in the United States gives her hope that people can overcome racial, socio-economic and political divisions for the good of all.
“Damage has been done to millions of people due to racial conflict and climate change (global warming),” Nii said. “In other words, we are not respecting each other and Mother Nature.”
The previous shows in the series were called “Lockdown” and “Togetherness & Oneness.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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