The roof of a old tile shop in the Eastside neighborhood of El Sereno is now hosting a recreation of the Endurance, the ship that explorer Ernest Shackleton took on his unsuccessful trip to the South Pole in the 1910s. (The seacraft got stuck, the crew had to survive for months on the ice, and the expedition never reached the Pole.) The ship, built out of wood, is in among "wood and paper and artfully placed Styrofoam" standing in for the white mountains of Antarctica, as part of an evolving art installation at the artist-run AWOL gallery. The whole installation is meant to be as much a metaphor for the struggle of the artist ("He failed, but he nonetheless went on the journey.") as it is a way to look at exploration and discovery as they intersect with gentrification.
The Endurance's appearance in El Sereno is an echo of a show that artist Jim Ovelmen did at a now-defunct Silver Lake gallery in 2002. (Ovelmen runs the AWOL gallery with his partner Nicole Wang and installed this current version of the Endurance too.) Upstairs, on the roof, is the ghostly wreckage of the ship, and down below, in the gallery, is a paper chandelier and a fancy chair, to give the space "the feel of an early explorer's club." The gallery also holds a periscope, allowing viewers inside to see the ship.
The installation's been set up since December, so it's stood through the Santa Ana winds and winter rain. Planned artistic additions, like a new mural by East LA street artist Armando Bobadilla (aka Mondo59420), have altered the installation since its opening too. And that's kind of the point: "I thought it felt appropriate to put it out there and let people react to it, to destroy it, to bomb it," Ovelmen says.
But Ovelmen's show also seeks to probe the issue of his own role and the role of artists in gentrification. From the AWOL gallery site:
Ernest Shackleton was an adventurer with goals, who thought of himself as an explorer. He sought, yet failed, to place the British flag on an icy land in which his country assumed nothing previously lived, much less thrived. Pushing the metaphor, this can be used to describe a privileged-class newcomer, entering a low-income neighborhood as thoughtless as the explorer, to "claim" a new experience as his or her own, thus impacting those around who are highly vulnerable to economic change, to erasing of cultural histories, and to displacement.
As a white artist, Ovelmen seems pretty aware of the part that artists can sometimes play or be seen as playing in gentrifying a neighborhood--a hot topic across the city, but especially on the Eastside (see e.g. Frogtown, a Latino neighborhood that was colonized by white artists a few years ago and is now threatened with full-on gentrification). "Often, [artists] too act like explorers and discoverers — what [some] call 'Columbusing' ... I thought it'd be perfect to put Shackleton in the crucible of this," he tells the Times.
Viewers can check out the Endurance at AWOL until March 6. Until then, here are some shots of the big ship in action.