Smog Collectors – world leaders and their words

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Smog Collectors
2019
10 porcelain plates, decal, smog
Each 26.6 cm diameter

The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100, curated by Snejana Krasteva and Ekaterina Lazareva for the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia

Kim Abeles’ ongoing series Smog Collectors uses time and city smog to create images. Since 1987, the artist has been leaving objects partially covered with stencils in the open air. Over the course of a few days or weeks, smog particles from the polluted city air settle on the object in a dense layer and make the stencilled image visible. For the exhibition at Garage, Abeles used the smog in Moscow to produce several portraits of world leaders, featuring their quotes about the environment.

Smog Collectors make visible the air we breathe. Today the word “smog,” coined in 1905 in London from “smoke” and “fog,” refers to the global problem of air pollution in big cities, from London and Beijing to Los Angeles and Moscow.  In 1992, Abeles exhibited a series of thirteen plates featuring smog portraits of American presidents and their quotes about the environment or industry. The length of each plate’s exposure to smog corresponded to the president’s environmental record. With her series for Garage, Abeles has taken her ecologically-engaged practice to the international level.

The new series, Smog Collectors, includes ten world leaders who presented speeches at climate summits from 2011 to 2018. Abeles used the official portraits from each government to create the stencils and the quotes are written on the plates in the language originally presented. In exhibition, all the quotes are translated to be accessible for the viewer, but the language on the plates displays both the nationalism and the internationalism that is in critical conflict worldwide. Similarly, the toxic effect of pollution moves past geographic boundaries and political borders.

What is the promise of a leader’s vision when leaders come and go?  Is there such a thing as an ethical stance when it comes to the survival of humans?  We have only begun to accept the seriousness of the climate crisis resulting from our corporate, consumer, and energy decisions.  Leaders make all types of statements, and we can surely see the irony in a quote that is not backed by policy and action.

The work is a sobering vision, an admission of guilt or responsibility, a call to action—the artist wants leaders to be accountable for their words.

Smog Collectors installed at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
Smog Collectors installed at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
Stenciled Smog Collectors collected smog in Los Angeles and Moscow.
Stenciled Smog Collectors collected smog in Los Angeles and Moscow.