Did You Know LA's Palm Trees Are Dying? This Artist is Bronzing Them.

LA-Like: An Interview With Zoe Crosher

With an exhibition that just opened at the new Hollywood home of not-for-profit art initiative LAXART, MutualArt checked in with Los Angeles-based artist Zoe Crosher to discuss her two recently unveiled projects, on view until October 24th, including LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds and LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics.

Zoe crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

Sarah Murkett: A lot of your work deals with disappearances and your current project LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds is no different. Can you briefly explain the history of palm trees in LA and what is happening to them, which will inevitably lead to their eradication in the city?

Zoe Crosher: It's an amazing crisis that Los Angeles has on its hands--many of the palm trees that dot the landscape and have come to iconically symbolize Southern California are nearing the end of their natural lifespan and are literally dying/disappearing. Planted in the 1930s as part of the boosterism craze, these ornamental, non-native and disastrously water demanding trees, which neither provide shade nor fruit, will not be replanted once they finally go. Running at an unaffordable $20K a pop to replace, Los Angeles County will be planting the more affordable native oaks instead. Imagine the LA landscape not dotted by the ever-present palm tree?

Zoe Crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

SM: Your projects often mine history both real and manufactured. How does your work relate to documentary practices?

ZC: I'm extremely interested in the schism of documentary--the hiccup between the presumption of truth and what that reality actually is. My practice is fed by this confusion; something I engage with called the imaginary, upending the assumption of truth in documentary, which I believe is impossible to locate. History is problematized by the presumption of truth that documentary work presumes, told from a privileged position--the notion that there is any singular truth is a complete fiction, and defines the problem of history. History is, fundamentally, misremembering--it is gleaned from what one is told, what one reads, what one learns and watches in film, not from what one experiences. Employing strategies such as captioning, repetition, volume and duration, my work explores how the reality of experiences is more like a satellite structure, looking at a particular situation (the hotel spaces around the LAX airport, sites where various figures, fictional and real, have disappeared along the edge of the Pacific, the auto-portraiture of Michelle duBois) from as many different viewpoints and strategies of dislocation as possible, eschewing any sort of singular reading.

Zoe Crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

SM: You come out of the Photography and Integrated Media program at CalArts and as I understand it you consider these bronze sculptures of palm fronds, which serve as a conceptual mapping of Los Angeles, to be part of an expanded understanding of your photographic practice. Can you explain how sculptures can be considered photographic?

ZC: A critical element to the new sculptural work that I'm doing is that these are unique pieces specifically made with a lost wax process--which means that the original raw organic object is actually destroyed in the process and replaced with, in this case, bronze. There is a way in which the actual replacement of the object being documented relates to the intentions of documentary photography, but I'm not sure what the proper term is--it isn't index, it is more a stand-in somehow, a facsimile or relief of the "real," a more physicalized way of recording something that is or that "happened." The traditional intention of photography to "represent the real" gets taken to a more expanded realm when the actual object being documented is actually used and replaced in that process of documentation, if that makes sense. This work is inspired by a photographic impulse, a documentary impulse even, but it no longer needs to exist within a photographic realm. In a term I've created, the Imagiatic (as opposed to the Photographic), the medium doesn't really matter--the imaginary, the image, all the intangible ideas that traditionally lived within photography as a representational medium, no longer need to be bound by them. Thus the bronzed palm fronds--these ephemeral objects that are disappearing almost overnight, cast in a material that lasts forever--still solidly sits within my conceptual realm of misremembered mapping of the imaginary of Los Angeles, is informed by a documentary impulse, has a bizarre relation to the Real, but is no longer bound by the photographic.

Zoe Crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

SM: Works from another recent project, LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics, are also on view at LAXART.  This series is the product of a residency you did at Lotusland Gardens in Montecito, CA. Can you tell us about this project?

ZC: This is an amazing new residency program that a writer called Yasmine Moseheni recently organized at Lotusland, a nonprofit botanical garden that opened to the public in 1993. Built by the eccentric and incredible Madame Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, the estate was purchased in 1941 whereby Madame (as she is known) spent the next forty-three years creating her "collection" of exotic plants. In the 1970s she even sold a million dollars of her jewelry to buy very rare cycad plants. As I have been thinking a lot about gardens and how they related to notions of collecting and the archive (see my recent billboard project with LAND)--fighting entropy and decay, trying to organize the impossible, etc.--it seemed a perfect fit. Originally I was going to speak with their botanical curator about palm trees, but after visiting the residency, I decided instead to focus on capturing the plant's incredible last hurrah, or swan song burst, before the plant ceases to exist. I have cast the reproductive elements of exotic plants from the collection that blossom prior to the end of their life cycle, preserving the ephemeral--and in some case rare and endangered--plant matter into bronze sculptures. This is a project still in formation, but an important note that I am only bronzing the blossoms from this particular garden, as it is very specifically caught up with the notions of disappearance that I am interested in. This disappearance lends itself to the impossibility of the archive and mapping that Jorge Luis Borges describes in his "Exactitude of Science" as the Ludic fallacy, mistaking the model/map for the reality/territory--I'd love to bronze every single blossom that comes out of the garden, from the smallest to the largest...

Zoe Crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

SM: Another interest of yours is the city of Los Angeles itself. Since the Pacific Standard Time initiative launched in 2011 more people are interested in this history. How do you think the art scene in Los Angeles has changed in the last five years?

ZC: Los Angeles is learning to remember, not to forget itself! Part of my love affair with Los Angeles has been its own history of forgetting, as Norman Klein would say, and this recent return to boosterism and self-mythologizing is getting in the way of the wonderful ephemerality that defines so much of this city. I'm afraid it is no longer a city I can get lost in the way I used to. And the rents are going up astronomically.

Zoe Crosher, "LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds," 2015, installation view at LAXART, Los Angeles, CA. Courtesy of Zoe Crosher. Photo: Chris Adler.

SM: What are your feelings about The Broad contemporary museum founded by Eli and Edythe Broad opening in downtown Los Angeles this week?

ZC: Talk about the new boosterism! The light on the top floor is the best art-viewing light I've ever experienced--and/but there are not enough ladies in the collection.


--Sarah Murkett

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