Dirt (Overburden)


Dirt implies something broken. Bedrock to boulders to rubble to dust. Sliding earth, floods, fires, mudslides: This is what happens when you open me.


NAVEL presents “Overburden,” an exhibition of new work by Symrin Chawla and David Ertel. Sculptures of reclaimed subsoil, automotive pigments slated for use in 2018, and California Sea Slug extract weave together the material consequences of natural resource extraction. All works are produced using unwanted overburden sourced from Los Angeles.

In open pit mining, overburden refers to the barren subsoil that lies above an ore body. It is a material which is necessarily displaced in the process of extraction. Placeless, an unfortunate clay, a weight that moves. It is the burden of human intervention on landscape, the burden of proof, the leftovers of excavation. The overburden is that which has been moved through, can only be moved through, cannot hold gold, cannot be kept, cannot be burned, cannot be lost.

Tomorrow’s Liquid Gold
uses overburden from a construction site in Central Los Angeles. In a reinterpretation of traditional mud dying techniques, mud is spread over fabric and cracks as it dries in the sun. Phycoerythrin and chlorella powder are poured into the crevices to pigment the fabric below. Phycoerythrin is a red-fluorescent chemical found both in the ink of the California Sea Slug as well as the red algae it eats. Both species have seen a population explosion on the California coastline due to the dumping of phosphate-rich waste. Chlorella is a green algae that is used to digest toxic heavy metals in mine tailings. The resulting fabric is peeled from the mud.

The size of each sculpture in Culm Dump Series is determined by how much wet overburden the artists could carry with their bare hands.The surfaces are coated in metallic automobile paint. The colors derive from the 2018 automotive color trend report IM Perfect palette, which “celebrates the perfections of imperfections and authenticity in individuals living their best lives and focusing on their uniqueness with an emphasis on wellness.” These two fantasies—augmented movement through space and the marketing romance of authentic oneness with nature—collide and shatter when the sculptures are dropped, cracked open to reveal the unwanted dirt inside them.

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