Reanimating forgotten catastrophes and places is a core strategy in the work of painter and photographer, Eva Castringius. A native of Munich who has lived since the early 1990s in Berlin, Castringius spent four months in 2001 in Los Angeles on a scholarship awarded her by the Villa Aurora. This period as an artist in residence shed a new light on her way of seeing things and prompted a definitive shift from small to large formats.
She had built and photographed a series of tabletop models of the Tschernobyl reactor catastrophe in 2001. With the photo series, ‘The Big Sky’ that followed later that year, she set her sights on urban space in two major metropolises, Los Angeles and Berlin. She photographed famous locations at sunrise and sunset, including the harbor at Long Beach and the International Congress Center, now known as Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures), in Berlin. On the American West Coast a red Volvo, revamped as a 1950s diner, nosed its way into every photograph. It was accompanied by a life-sized plastic figure of a waiter that assumed the role of protagonist. It’s left to the viewer to come up with the story behind each image. In Berlin a white VW beetle took center stage, topped by an old-fashioned, neon ‘Café’ sign that drew attention to this mobile site of communication and possible identification.
Artificial elements act as a signature or an ironic commentary in Eva Castringius´ images. She also employs them in the two series, ‘The Great Thirst’ and ‘Point Brake.’ Fascinated and shocked by a natural catastrophe that has been unfolding since the early 20th century about 240 miles north of Los Angeles, and which as yet remained largely unnoticed, the artist created the latter series as a political statement, one that she continues to reiterate in her painting and photography to this day. Construction began on the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1907. It was intended to direct water through a gigantic cement pipe leading from the Owens River to the arid city of Los Angeles. Tunnels were blasted, rail tracks and electricity lines were laid; streets and telephone masts sprang up. The first segment was completed in 1913 and was considered a pioneering feat of engineering. No one anticipated what encroaching environmental destruction the project had unleashed. By 1940 an additional 105-mile stretch to the Mono Basin had been accomplished. This resulted in a hydroelectric power plant, a cement production plant, and the largest reservoir in Los Angeles, Lake Crowley. Yet nor was this without ecological impact. The area dried out. The once fertile Owens Valley was transformed into a barren desert.
Castringius addresses these issues in her paintings in scintillating psychedelic tones, heightened almost to abstraction in sleek architectural landscapes. The word, ‘Drift’ appears in large letters. In the center of the canvas a puddle of bleeding paint evaporates. The world seems to be upside down. On another canvas one can decipher the word, ‘Control.’ It becomes even more evident here that nature has been replaced by the domination of nature. A series of large format photographs was taken during hikes along the controversial aqueduct in Owens Valley, a restricted zone. The artist took a few pine trees with her on these excursions and placed these helpless symbols of lost fertility in her images of that which human hands have wrought.
Catalogue contribution by Katja Blomberg (Artistic Director, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin) on the exhibition ’permanent zeitgenössisch,’ Berlin, 2005