CSULB SOAR artists share perspective about art on display at LGB

Signal Tribune Q&A

This week, the Signal Tribune spoke with California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) artists and faculty members who are involved with the School of Art Review (SOAR) pilot program.

SOAR is a joint initiative between CSULB and Long Beach Airport (LGB) that seeks to utilize student artwork at the terminal to “engage the community” with creative works, as reported in October. The program focuses on sculpture, wood, ceramic, fiber and metal art pieces.

On display at LGB is the “The Mountain,” by Manny Krakowski, and “Luggage for Native Soil,” by Lena Wolek. Sometime in spring 2019, “Drifting,” by Jojo Solo, and “Collection,” by Amy Williams, will replace those artworks.

The following is a Q&A between the Signal Tribune and said artists and faculty members.

Manny Krakowski, local artist and fabricator and CSULB lecturer

Courtesy Manny Krakowski
Manny Krakowski

Signal Tribune: What kind of impact are you hoping to make for travelers as they arrive to Long Beach Airport from their destinations and see the art creations on display?

Krakowski: For myself, traveling is always a time of excitement. The technology of aviation is kind of magical. I am hoping that when travelers experience my artwork at the airport, it can be a moment when they can escape the busyness of their travel and take to time reflect on something completely unexpected. The artwork “The Mountain” was constructed by building a single form and then separating the two. By displaying them in close proximity, the artwork becomes a metaphor for separation and connection [that] parallels what takes place during air travel. I think that art is important to experience in person, and works that are displayed in a public space encourage this interaction.

ST: How much work went into your art piece? Did you make it with the knowledge that it would be on display at the airport?

Photo courtesy City of LB
“The Mountain,” by Manny Krakowski

Krakowski: That is an interesting question. There are many facets to creating an artwork, but the two aspects I will speak about are the idea and the labor. Coming up with an idea is the first part of my process– and probably the most challenging. The world is full of stuff, so before I start any project, I really want to be excited about the idea before I start building. That being said, I really love building things and material processes. It is important to me to be involved in the production of the artwork. I have spent many years of my life learning the craft of welding, glassblowing and woodworking, which are materials often used in my art. So, even though this work took a few months to complete, I always like to say it actually took about 15 years, which is a culmination of all of my thinking and translating that to artworks. My artworks are about separation, togetherness, invisibility. I use architectural references and industrial techniques, such as steel construction, to take what’s in my head and share it with the world.

Courtesy Lena Wolek
Lena Wolek

This is the second time this artwork has been exhibited, but it’s the first in this iteration. It was initially shown at the CSULB campus in the Merlino gallery. In its inception at CSULB, the artwork was twice as big; it was a full pyramid that had been cut in half once. For the iteration at the LB Airport, one of the halves has been cut in half. The idea behind this was that some of the artwork has disappeared, and because it started as a symmetrical form, one could imagine the missing half. This to me really worked in line with what happens during airport travel and the excitement and imagination of being connected to a faraway person or place.

Lena Wolek, CSULB alumna
Wolek shared her thoughts about the SOAR program and the everyday intricacies of air travel.

Wolek: Travelers are always rushing through the airport, either if they are arriving or departing– and even though they will have to wait for their plane or for their luggage. I hope that my display will attract them to slow down on the way and forget the rush and examine the metaphor of mobility versus stability that is inherent in the piece, with the suitcases signifying transit and the cacti permanence. We all seek to obtain a place to ground oneself, as well as to explore and find new adventures in life.

Photo courtesy City of LB
“Luggage for Native Soil,” by Lena Wolek

I made the suitcases a few years ago as containers of symbols of my nomadic life as I immigrated from Siberia to Los Angeles. The holes are an escape of the box that I discovered had previously surrounded me, as my mind opened. I learned so much, transforming from a small-town Russian girl and [becoming] a multicultural citizen. When I was asked to propose a piece for the airport project, I knew the suitcases would be perfect for the site-specific space of the indoor airport-garden setting. The idea of the cactus– all from my home garden– growing up through the suitcases and melding into them complete the connection between traveling and home; moving, yet simultaneously being rooted to the earth. I hope that all travelers going through become explorers and realize their own connections to the world.

I take many voyages and always pay attention to art at airports, because it is a public place occupied by many people but offers little interaction between them. Art in these spaces give patrons a chance to slow down, observe and contemplate during a time that is individual yet public. Artists who embark to do a site-specific work at the airport should first think and visualize as a traveler before going into the artist mode. It is important to ask oneself what would be necessary to grab attention and engage in deliberation, rather than the creation be ignored [and serve as] decoration as people rush by.

Michael Nannery, CSULB School of Art staff

Courtesy Cassie Chauvel
Michael Nannery

Signal Tribune: How much work went into each dedicated art piece?
Nannery: Students and recent alumni were asked to submit proposals for projects that met certain display criteria. Thematically, proposed projects considered the context of the Long Beach Airport in general aesthetic or included themes, such as travel, sky, ocean or the history of the airport in relation to early modern style. Some proposals consisted of work already completed that relates to some of these concepts. Other proposals were entirely new site-specific creations for the airport environment.

ST: How did you get introduced to the concept of the SOAR project?

Nannery: CSULB SOARs at LGB took shape after administration from both Long Beach entities expressed an interest in collaboration. The School of Art at CSULB is the flagship art program for the CSU system and cultivates some of the best emerging artists in the LA area. As LGB has a focus on the local, this public art project features one of the best sources of local art in Long Beach. We appreciate the inclusion of our artists and believe the artwork will further enrich the airport experience.