The desert isn’t just a place to create art for Cristopher Cichocki; the desert is also his muse—and at times, his art includes actual pieces of the desert. His works have showcased the beauty, the darkness and the catastrophes of the desert and its ecosystem.
Cichocki’s work has been shown around the world, and he’s taking many of his pieces to the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster for an exhibition called Divisions of Land and Sea; it’s part of a larger exhibit called The Robot Show, which features eight artists, each with their own solo exhibition. It will be on display from Saturday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, Sept. 30.
During a recent phone interview with Cichocki while he was in Guadalajara, Mexico, he explained his exhibit.
“It’ll be an installation of new paintings, video works, sculptures, photographic works and my audio work,” Cichocki said. “It relates to the collision that we’re in between humankind, the natural world and industrial production.”
Some of Cichocki works are not what they appear to be at first. For instance: If you look at his photos, you’ll discover he’s combined them with paint.
“After Palm Desert High School, where I graduated in 1997, I went directly to CalArts,” he said; also known as the California Institute of the Arts, the renowned school is located in Valencia. “CalArts is potentially one of the most multidisciplinary art schools in the world, and I was exposed to highly experimental and conceptual practices. They were completely mind-blowing, and to challenge myself and experiment, and I’ve always been striving to take my practice and insights to a different level. CalArts was a laboratory for me to work through this hybrid framework.
“As to when the work came into this cohesive relationship, I feel that really came around 2010, when I started combining my elements with the video, the photography, the painting and the performance. They came together and started to work together as a cross-reference—meaning they’re all pieces of a larger puzzle. I’m producing paintings that are photographs; I’m producing videos that are paintings, and vice versa. I find it necessary for exhibitions such as Divisions of Land and Sea to combine all of these elements into a larger narrative.”
Cichocki was part of a KCET documentary on the Salton Sea. He voiced his concerns about the growing ecological and environmental threat the lake poses to the Coachella Valley.
“The Salton Sea is one of the largest pending airborne catastrophes threatening the United States, and it’s right in our backyard,” he said. “It’s this issue that I feel is out of sight and out of mind for a majority of people in the area—not only in the Coachella Valley, but even spanning all the way into Los Angeles, people don’t even know about the Salton Sea.
“The Salton Sea was a manmade accident in 1905 when the Colorado River split and started filling what was then the Salton Sink, which was a huge basin ready for this water to enter it. Now we have California’s largest lake … and if the dust or particulate matter begins to advance further with the receding shoreline, we’re going to have major problems with the air quality. We already do have major problems. The high school in Mecca has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation. It’s not just dust that’s blowing around in the air; it’s particulate matter entering into people’s blood streams and causing asthma, especially in younger generations. There’s selenium, arsenic and all of these other things. It truly is this synthesis of nature and industry because of 100 years of agricultural runoff.”
His work gets quite detailed at times. His latest painting, “Shoreline,” includes barnacles, fish bones, sand and salt from the Salton Sea.
“I look at (Divisions of Land and Sea) as a hybrid between natural history and contemporary art. I’m bringing in elements of land art, minimalism and other historical points of trajectory,” he said. “Also, I’m bringing in raw organic materials. My paintings have actual barnacles; they have actual soil and things that are transforming within them. There’s black-light reactivity, which I actually refer to in the technical term—ultraviolet radiation. There’s evidence that there’s a metaphysical property under these elements. I’m interested in reality and also the biological and phenomenological structural makeup of these elements. There’s this idea that there’s something constantly in motion, and the work is alive.”
I asked Cichocki if there was a spiritual element to his work. He seemed to struggle with the question at first.
“I certainly feel that nature has a certain awareness to it. It can be as simple as we water a tree, or we don’t,” Cichocki said. “Or it can be as simple as we have classical music playing, and the tree thrives beyond the other trees in areas where there isn’t any classical music.”
Cichocki will be going out of state for his next exhibition.
“In September in Taos, New Mexico, I’ll be performing Circular Dimensions at a large video and installation festival called The Paseo Project. Circular Dimensions is ever-evolving, so I have new tricks up my sleeve for Taos.”
Cristopher Cichocki’s Divisions of Land and Sea, part of The Robot Show, will be on display from Saturday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, 665 W. Lancaster Blvd., in Lancaster, about 135 miles northwest of the Coachella Valley. For more information, call 661-723-6250, or visit www.lancastermoah.org. Below top: “Center of the Sea,” 2018, Salton Sea barnacles on wood composite with LED video panel. Below bottom: “Property Division,” 2016-2017; left side is a tilapia nest at Riviera Keys, Salton Sea, Calif.; right side is algae with birds, Salton City, Calif.