‘Broken Halos’ explores a post-apocalyptic future, with an eye to the past
It’s 2305 and the earth has been sucked dry. No oil, no ice caps, no West Coast, no ozone layer. That’s the kind of landscape Bridget Henry and her collaborator Jared Roth imagined when creating the large-scale tree installation in Felix Kulpa’s “Broken Halos” exhibit, which opened Feb. 6.
Built from reclaimed castoffs the two scavenged in the dumps of Bodie, California—bottles, light bulbs and cans—the installation includes a found-wood tree mounted to the gallery wall, which overlooks a “post-apocalyptic trash-built village on stilts.”
“The idea is that the future looks like the past,” says Henry. “It’s kind of this push-pull between the human thumbprint and nature’s ability to overcome when the thumbprint gets pressed down too hard.”
When the earth is barren and blank, the only place left for humanity to turn is back to nature, she says—the houses on stilts reach toward the tree as the last resort.
“There’s a finite number of resources that we can scrape out of the ground, and once they’ve been taken out, we’re going to have to look to what we already have,” says Henry. “We can’t just keep creating new things.”
But the artists behind “Broken Halos” know that simply recognizing the environmental ramifications of limited resources and climate change does not solve the problem.
“I’m not pure myself—I drive around, I take planes, I turn on the lights—I do all these things, so I’m not interested in a soapbox type of exhibit,” says Henry. “I’m interested in how we choose to walk that line, between the consciousness of the cost of our lives and thinking about the future.”
Henry and Roth were inspired to explore that line after trips to Bodie, now famous for being a “ghost town” near the Nevada border. What was in 1877 a booming gold mine is now an eerie, abandoned remnant of the bygone “Wild West.”
“People rushed in to take as much as they could from the ground and when it was gone, they left, and for a while there was just garbage everywhere—bottles, cans, books, quilts, everything that people needed to live,” says Henry.
“Now people go there and romanticize this era as being the ‘Wild West’ as if it was almost like ‘the good life,’ but when you scratch a little bit at the surface you realize it was really rough and really hard and people weren’t very kind to each other—it was very dirty, ugly violent, racist, sexist,” she says.
But, there are two sides to every coin, says Henry’s collaborator, even when it comes to sustainable living.
“We’re interested in the angel and the devil in things, in life—the mixing of the two,” Roth says. “Bodie was the epitome of greed and environmental exploitation … but now it’s totally quiet and beautiful. I think that marriage is kind of an example of what we’re interested in—typically there’s hero in the villain and villain in the hero.”
“Broken Halos” also features work by Dave Gardner and Whitney Humphreys, who build off a similar environmental theme.
Humphreys, a recent UC Santa Cruz graduate and artist, says that it’s always easiest to ignore the cautionary tales.
“A lot of things that the masters of science fiction predicted, like George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, they all predicted a lot of things that are going on right now—simple things like technology for the sake of technology, but it being detrimental to our health and our environment,” says Humphreys.
Humphreys stripped down an old newspaper stand and hand-printed some 50-something newspapers with original articles commenting on the current state of the environment in a satirical pre-apocalyptic world.
Rose-colored glasses might tint the present and the recent past, but the blinders must come off sooner or later, says Henry. It’s that same ethos of the “American Dream”—pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, pioneering with no frills and no complaints—that has lead to a cultural justification to pillage the earth without reprisal.
“Our footprint, the way we mow through this planet—that is very destructive,” adds Roth. “I think that in some ways that’s the devil in us.”
Info: Broken Halos is at Felix Kulpa, 107 Elm St., Santa Cruz. 408-373-2854. Closing Reception is 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, March 1. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER