Rose Apodaca reviews Bettina Hubby’s Dig the Dig 7.25.13

What do a mirrored disco ball, a dirt-caked bulldozer and half a dozen pasta salads have in common? In the creative feasts that are inevitably an apogee to the multidimensional explorations of Bettina Hubby, they are facets of not only the human condition, but the interactions, including clashes, that result from community.

The ball, bulldozer and buckwheat noodles were served up along with construction site photography, a fragrance called “Dirt,” crochet traffic cone cozies and other activities by the good-humored art provocateur Sunday night as the climax to her latest “intervention” on the life-altering impact of disruptive road construction sites in the nation’s most traffic-choked city, Los Angeles (scroll through the 47 images for a sampling of the evening’s sights). In this case, it’s the dust-up at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street in Santa Monica, the 2016 home of a new light rail Expo Metro station. Not only will this connect downtown to this seaside town. For those at the doorstep of the new station—among them nearby Santa Monica Museum of Art and the Bergamot Station Art Center—it’s being hailed as a new era of revitalization for the neighborhood and for the arts, both citywide and in this corner of the metropolis. Bettina’s “Dig the Dig” marks SMMoA’s “first chapter of engagement with the revitalization of its environs and its own metamorphosis.”

Lofty stuff. But the only reason anyone had her nose in the air at Sunday’s event was to admire the twinkling sphere dangling from the crane or watch the nylon “cone” inflating during the rosy evening in the Bergamot Station parking lot. There were plenty of traffic cones around the party, in fact—from the standard-issue kind streaked in colored paints and stuffed with sunflowers on the tables and tarmac, to the mini cones covered in orange and white cozies crocheted by the artist’s mother, Barbara Gillespie, that decorated the tall cocktail tables, also covered in traffic orange. Oh, and for good measure, a delicious cocktail conceived for the event by Ivette Soler called “The Safety Cone.”

The chain link fence separating the public party area from the construction zone acted as a gallery wall for Bettina’s super-sized photographic murals on vinyl. They were actually mirrored images, a kaleidoscope vision of dredged earth, ponderous machinery, verdant palm trees, sea-blue skies and other realities chronicled on Olympic and 26th in the months leading up to Sunday’s supper. There were also posters by artist Christopher Michlig with the single word “YES” or “NO,” posted to provoke questions among observers about the art project, as well as reminders of the extreme opinions regarding the public works improvements among the public-at-large.

Dividing as they might be at times, the conversations coursing through such projects is at the heart of “Dig the Dig.” It’s not simply the asphalt that’s ripped apart: routes, routines and whole communities undergo an effect that, more often than not, becomes redder than a traffic stoplight. The animosity aimed at road workers by some fed-up residents over the never-ending construction on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake initiated the first “Dig.” Now into year 3 of what was supposed to be a 1-year project, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power continues to dominate the busy street in front of an elementary school in its goal of replacing the area’s four-decade old water mains which supply much of the city. Bettina began by photographing the workers and their stages. Two years later, her kaleidoscope images on silk were featured at the University of La Verne’s Harris Gallery. And the first “Dig the Dig” potluck was held, right smack on Rowena, disco ball and all, this last spring.

With the validation of SSMoA Monica Sunday night, the celebration-cum-art installation took on a significance from the Rowena chapter—albeit without the institutional or art world sobriety (the free flow at the open bar of a home brew by one artist, notwithstanding). More than 300 friends, fans, strangers and a smattering of road workers had come together, armed with something home made or store bought to contribute to a potluck buffet that stretched 24 feet. Among them, of course, was friend and mentor Ed Ruscha, no stranger to celebrating the Los Angeles trafficscape in what is now some of his most iconic work. Also in attendance were most of the 30 artists who contributed to this latest HubbyCo. project: Bettina acts as much as artist as cheerleading curator on her exploratory projects, engaging family (including mom, dad, sister and cousins) and friends with any creative yayas. (Full disclosure: I participated in 2 such productions, the 2008 Co-Tour and 2011’s Get Hubbied, which involved a real wedding.) Musician Chris Stroffolino had his piano van onsite; Gordon Bowenturned concrete into pedestals; a music video by group Samo Hurt; tin-type portraits of the workers by Omar Lopex and, well, the list goes on and it will all eventually be featured in a catalog on the project.

The exploration doesn’t end with dinner and a book. An art egalitarian with a pop artist’s penchant for merchandising, Bettina continues her tradition from other projects with photography digitally printed on scarves and T-shirts, as well as branded T-shirts and the “Dirt” perfume limited to 100 bottles.

Bettina teamed up with the downtown L.A.-based Institute of Art and Olfaction to craft an artist-edition of worker-inspired fragrance. Forty-nine flavors were waived under the noses of 25 workers from the Metro site game enough to participate. Their mission: zeroing in on the notes that made the “tired workers feel good.” The result is a concoction of orange, vanilla, coffee, pine, rain and, somehow not surprisingly, “fresh laundry.” Even more surprising is how well it all works.

Bettina Hubby will hold a solo exhibition September 7 as the inaugural show at Gallery KM’s new space in Culver City, 6023 Washington Blvd. A book on her new collages will by published in 2013 by Iceplant Press.

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