Dear Earth artist in focus: Andrea Bowers
Working with a range of media including drawing, sculpture, video and neon, Andrea Bowers makes art about activism and activists.
In a 2014 interview Bowers described her multifaceted practice as ‘a form of advocacy’ and explained in a preview for Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum that she is ‘trying to document what’s under-recorded, or unrecorded, What I care about is honouring the activism and the movements I respect’. The social, political and environmental issues she confronts encompass human rights and the rights of nature, as exemplified in Rights of Nature & Bodily Autonomy (2016). A passionate ecofeminist, the symbiotic relationship between women and ecology is a recurring theme in her work.
‘I’m not trying to change the world with my work. I’m just trying to do my part. I see my practice as part of a whole movement… Too much of art history has promoted the brilliance of the individual act vs. the production of a group activity.’
The hanging sculpture Memorial to Arcadia Woodlands Clear-Cut (Green Violet and Brown) (2014) commemorates a tree-sitting protest in Arcadia, a suburb of Los Angeles, in which Bowers took part. Attempting to save a pristine grove of majestic oaks and sycamores from being cleared to create a sediment dump, she and three other activists tied themselves to two treetops. Perched on small platforms 100ft above the ground, they witnessed all the surrounding trees being bulldozed and fed into woochippers, leaving total devastation. After their arrest and two-day imprisonment, bowers revisited the site and retrieved all that remained: a mountain of chippings. Some of this aftermath, together with ropes and other tree-sitting gear, forms a monument to the 250 trees and their habitat.
Bowers’ art is mostly created from humble materials, much of them recycled. Two brightly coloured images from her Eco Grief Extinction Series (2022), lamenting Hawaiian flora and fauna recently declared extinct, are drawn on ragged patchworks of used cardboard. Each contains a quotation from the poet Deena Metzger, whose poem ‘Now That We Know’, reflecting on the environmental implications of the coronavirus pandemic, encircles the monochrome drawing after which it is titled. In its depths, half-hidden by silhouettes of native plants, are two figures personifying Melancholy, a piece of 18th century performance art devised by Emma, Lady Hamilton.
An earlier drawing, Step It Up Activist… (2009) demonstrates the power of Bower’s extraordinary photorealistic technique to stop her audience in their tracks; once you notice that this small work is not a photograph it becomes as compelling as her eye-catching and attention-grabbing neon works.
This article, written by Helen Luckett, is taken from the Dear Earth catalogue, which features texts on each artist in the exhibition, and essays by Rachel Thomas, Rebecca Solnit, Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Greta Thunberg and Imani Jacqueline Brown. Also included are a conversion between artist Jenny Kendler and birder J. Drew Lanham, a manifesto by Agnes Denes, poetry by Deena Metzger and an extract from an interview on activism by Andrea Bowers.
Header image: Installation view of Andrea Bowers, Dear Earth (21 Jun – 3 Sep 2023). Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.