The four shipping containers look as if they’d been washed ashore, left stranded after a mighty flood. Lying flat on one of them is an emaciated polar bear; on another, her legs crossed, a siren sits and gazes out to sea. We are led to believe that it was her song that lured the ship’s crew onto the treacherous, saw-toothed reefs that zigzag under the deceivingly calm surface of the ocean from Palos Verdes to Santa Monica. And then all of those huge containers dominoed overboard.
“Anti-Ark” is the name of this installation piece, created by the young German artist Michael Sistig, currently an artist-in-residence at the recently opened El Segundo Museum of Art, which opened late last month. The museum – which bills itself as an art laboratory – commissioned the work from Sistig, and on a blustery recent Friday the four containers and the two sculptures were set in place – where they will remain for at least another week and possibly several more if the Coastal Commission follows the example of the City of El Segundo and gives them the green light.
The new museum is located at 208 Main Street in El Segundo and the inaugural exhibition, “Desire,” is up through April 28. On the far wall, across from the gallery as one enters, Sistig’s large canvas has pride of place. Seemingly inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Anti-Ark” depicts a tempestuous dark blue sea that is inhabited by ships and other vessels of the painter’s imagination. This piece, plus two other paintings by the artist, inspired him to manifest his vision and to pose questions, or riddles – or conundrums, as he says – for the viewer to ponder.
The stranded shipping containers are meant to conjure up images of giant ships, as large or larger than the Titanic, Sistig says. He would have us picture Biblical floods and then – stirring the siren and the polar bear into the mix – draw our own conclusions about sustainability and the effects of Mankind’s meddling with the natural environment.
One cannot help but observe the polar bear and think “climate change,” “global warming,” and “extinction.” As the ice caps melt will polar bears become refugees and castaways? Will there be thousands of them drifting on tiny ice rafts across the oceans of the world? Will there be others washed up in El Segundo, hundreds of them like beached whales floating in on the morning tide?
The siren, of course, we associate with mythology, luring sailors (and an occasional journalist) onto the rocks of calamity. Perhaps the modern day siren isn’t so much a beautiful soprano but rather a tree of temptations, the illusion of bigger, better, and more that all people and all societies seem to be craving, regardless of the planet’s inability to support the burden of so much abuse and depletion. We may plunder, but if we don’t replenish then there is no balance whatsoever, only a gradual but relentless sliding into ruin. After a certain point, there is not turning around. And the warning lights have already come on.
Metaphorically, Noah’s Ark could only contain so many animals, and the lesson of Sistig’s “Anti-Ark” is that our planet has its limitations as well. The installation that Sistig has created for the City of El Segundo may amuse and entertain us, but it will have failed if it doesn’t inspire an awareness and a dialogue about sustainability and responsibility to Mother Nature. If we fail to act, the emaciated polar bear will one day have a human face.
Anti-Ark, an installation work conceived by Michael Sistig, is located on the beach in El Segundo at the foot of Grand Avenue. Entry to the beach is at the intersection of Vista Del Mar Blvd. and Grand Ave., with access to the beach via the Grand Avenue parking lot. Through April 7. Call (424) 277-1020.
Related: Museum on Main to open on Sunday