Buenos Aires-born, L.A.-based Luciana Abait, who deals with climate change and environmental fragility and their impacts on immigration – and whose artworks have been shown widely in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia, and are held in private, public and corporate collections around the world – plumbs her own psychological depths only to discover what makes her love work and life.
What historical art figure would you like to have lunch with and why? I would like to have lunch with Michelangelo. Every time I see his works in person, I am blown away by his brilliance. I admire the fact that he was multifaceted, working on sculpture, painting and also architecture. I would like to ask him in particular how he got the drive, focus and energy to work on the same monumental project for several years, many times without assistants.
What did you purchase with the proceeds from your first sale? A stereo system with CD player for my first studio in Miami.
What words or phrases do you overuse? I was just told while installing my map installation The Maps that Failed Us at the Laband Gallery that every time I finished a part, I said “OK.” The map is huge, so I can’t imagine the many times that I said that word!
How do you know when a work is finished? I know it’s finished when I come to the realization that if I add one more brushstroke, pencil or pastel application, I will ruin the work, because it will look overdone.
When and where were you happiest? It’s hard to say just one, so here are two moments: In Hong Kong in 2001. I was invited to be there for a month while I presented my work in a solo exhibition. I had the time to learn about Asian culture, wander through the streets, experience food, architecture, art, people, places, markets; it was one of the happiest moments of my life.The second moment was last year in 2021 during the presentation of my immersive video installation Agua during LUMINEX.
We were coming out of the pandemic and for many people it was the first time that they were attending a public event after being on lockdown for more than a year. Seeing people dancing, twirling, and jumping with joy as a way to interact with my piece, and seeing that collective moment of sheer happiness that my work brought about, was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. I felt all the hardships were worth it just to be there at that moment. I remember thinking, “This is it; this is why I do what I do.”
What is your most treasured possession? Although I tend to collect many things and I’m not a minimalist, I try not to be attached to anything material. I believe life is easier this way when we have no material anchors.
Where is your ideal escape destination? Begur in the Costa Brava, Spain.
What’s the worst survival job you’ve ever had? Being a schoolteacher.
What TV series from your youth best describes your approach to life? The A Team. I believe relying on your peers and not being so individualistic is a wonderful way to live life.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My shyness.
What is your most treasured memory? In the summers, when I was a kid, we went to Pinamar, a beach town in Argentina. There was an empty lot next to our house with discarded construction material: brick, pipes, even rusted wires and nails. I would go with my brother and neighbor friends and would build a would-be house with everything we found there. We even built sofas! It was an incredible sense of achievement I felt by being able to build a pretend house out of scraps and elements from nature.
What makes you smile? Absurdity and arrogance.
What makes you cry? Unfairness.
What is your go-to drink when you toast to a sale? Diet Coke. I think I’m the only Argentinean that doesn’t drink wine.
After an all-nighter, what’s your breakfast of champions? A cortadito with a croissant.
Who inspires you? Women artists who have gained recognition in the art world late in life after living in anonymity most of their lives. I admire their drive and their willingness to continue to produce art despite decades of adversity and invisibility.
What’s your best quality? Honesty.
What’s your biggest flaw? Impatience.
What is your current state of mind? Hectic and chaotic and trying to enjoy life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Being an artist after all the years, despite the hardships, the rejection and the lack of support.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? I would come back as a cat that lives in a beautiful palazzo in Venice, Italy and that lays on a sofa all day and watches the canals from a window.
Luciana Abait’s exhibition, On the Verge, is on view at Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University through December 10, 2022, with an artist talk at 2pm that afternoon.
Cover image: The artist in her studio; all images courtesy of Luciana Abait.