Cultured Magazine

February/March 2016

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uly 20, 1969, marked a seminal moment in Lita Albuquerque's artistic career: Man set foot on the moon. In the Tunisian desert of her upbringing, after their car had broken down, Albuquerque and a friend wandered to a nearby farm where the moon landing was playing on TV. "I became obsessed with aligning our bodies with the stars," she tells me in the book-filled study of her Malibu home, where a series of disconnected rooms spreads over the crest of a canyon, and she keeps a telescope posted by the pool. She was, at the time of our conversation, diligently preparing for two solo shows of entirely new works: an exhibition of paintings for Kohn Gallery in Hollywood and a multi- part installation for "20/20: Accelerando" at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. The latter features large-scale video projections based on a story Albuquerque wrote about a 25th-century female astronaut's journey to Earth to teach primitive man about his relationship to the stars—a concept that perfectly embodies her ongoing fascination with the cosmos. Since the 1970s, Albuquerque's work has been associated with the seemingly contradictory movements of both Land Art and Light and Space, with an unparalleled awareness of her position in the universe. "I used to think art was painting," she recalls, a notion that changed when she saw an installation by Light and Space artist Robert Irwin: the horizon placed inside a gallery using only a continuous strip of black tape. "Suddenly," she said, "it was about space." In the late '70s, she abandoned works on paper and brought her work outdoors, making pigmented marks on the earth that sat in conversation to the horizon. The rich ultramarine she used—recalling the vividness of International Klein Blue—was an expression of the Earth's connection to the sky. "Yves Klein dreamt that he wrote his name on the back of the sky and claimed it for himself," she says. "I thought that for myself, I could claim the relationship between the sky and the Earth." In the decades to follow, Albuquerque's work expanded to sculpture, performance, film and installation and progressed to a monumental scale. Through ephemeral installations, she mapped the reflection of the stars above the Great Pyramids and the rotation of the Earth around the sun at the Washington Monument, before creating her 2006 landmark, Stellar Axis: Antarctica, her largest work to date. It involved four weeks in Antarctica, positioning ultramarine spheres to project the 99 brightest stars in the night sky directly onto the snow. She later exhibited footage and photographs in a 2014 Kohn Gallery show aptly titled "Light Carries Information." With her cosmic knowledge, it seems that Albuquerque understands this information better than anyone. "Lita is like an environmental empath," says Grant Johnson, curator of the USC show. "She addresses not only the here and now but also reaches for the mythic, the deep past and the precarious future." She, like the interstellar protagonist of 20/20: Accelerando, is on a mission to go beyond. 198 CULTURED In Lita Albuquerque's cosmic artwork, the stars align. BY JANELLE ZARA BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH A still from Lita Albuquerque's 20/20: Accelerando, on view at the USC Fisher Museum of Art in Los Angeles. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ARTIST J

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