Abigail DeVille Gives a Voice to the Voiceless

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Bronx-based artist Abigail DeVille’s name is synonymous with swirling site-specific installations highlighting the plight of displaced and marginalized people. No Space Hidden (Shelter), her current showing at Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles is no different. As her first solo presentation in the city, these room-filling assemblages employ a wide variety of discarded items, including recovered hubcaps and clothes. The exhibition’s disarray and chaos reflects the unimaginable upheaval and hardship faced by society’s unseen and misunderstood.

Acting as an archaeologist, DeVille recovers these abandoned items, re-purposes them, and adds them to her immersive, cluttered rooms, thereby giving them a new life and context à la Marcel Duchamp. Like static cyclones, her work focuses on the minutiae of movement and just how different our experiences can be based on race, gender, and economic opportunity.

In preparation for this survey, DeVille arrived in Los Angeles over a month ahead of time on the hunt for local items. She scoured Craigslist and Skid Row for litter and various things, including toys, scrap wood, and furniture, all delicately hanging from the ceiling of ICA LA like a canopy. Perhaps this unusual adornment is a play on Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel painting, as it famously depicts the beginning of mankind with The Creation of Adam (1512). In echoing this work, DeVille might be alluding to humanity’s demise in the form of overwhelming consumer waste and lack of compassion.


Detail from Abigail DeVille’s ‘No Space Hidden (Shelter), 2017. Courtesy of Yelp.

This suspension of gravitational law in the form of floating artwork is also greatly influenced by black holes. DeVille has shared in the past that her interest in astronomy began while earning her MFA from Yale. It was there that she learned that her maternal grandfather had authored several books, including a collection of poetry that often included black hole metaphors and imagery. This analogy has become quite meaningful for the artist, as it speaks to the overwhelming external factors in migration and the tremendous cultural/historical loss this creates.

No Space Hidden (Shelter) perfectly works in conjunction with its neighboring exhibit at ICA LA, Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, a haunting retrospective investigating the life and career of the self-taught artist, a Mexican immigrant who was institutionalized as a schizophrenic for over thirty years. These two collections, one speaking to culture erasure in the past and the other in the present, reveals the strength and socio-political awareness of the recently relocated museum. Formerly located in Bergamot Station and known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMOA) for 33 years, the newly renovated and opened ICA LA boasts a staggering 7,500-square-feet of exhibition space. Keep your eye on this one.

Abigail DeVille: No Space Hidden (Shelter)
Through December 31, 2017
Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
1717 E 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021

Emily Nimptsch

Emily Nimptsch

Emily Nimptsch is a freelance arts and culture writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, and produced blog content for Venice Beach’s L.A. Louver Gallery.