New exhibit mourns San Diego’s loss of natural spaces
By Will Bowen
“We don’t care what a frog thinks, or a bird … but we should because we all live together in interconnected systems,” insists eco artist Ruth Wallen, whose exhibit, “Cascading Memorials: Responses to Urbanization and Climate Change in San Diego County,” will be on view Jan. 7 to Feb. 11 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.
Wallen, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif., is best known for her colorful photographic nature plaques at the Carmel Mountain Nature Preserve on the mesa top overlooking Carmel Valley. She said her love of nature dates back to age 8, when she circulated petitions to help protect the natural areas where she and other children played.
Wallen earned a B.A. from Swarthmore College in environmental science, and then worked for the San Francisco park service while attending art classes at the Art Institute of San Francisco. Her graduate degree was completed at UCSD, where she earned a M.F.A. in Visual Art under Allen Kaprow, Helen Newton Harrison and Eleanor and David Antin.
Wallen’s show at the Athenaeum will consist of photomurals and photo collages of San Diego natural areas that we are losing to population growth, climate change, and development. The exhibit will include images from Cuyamaca State Park, Pine Creek, Otay Mountain, Mission Gorge, and Carmel Mountain.
In addition, she will display her books, titled “I Love Del Mar,” “Legends,” and “Preserving Paradise.”
“I was motivated to put together this particular show because I’ve noticed how much San Diego County, and specifically Carmel Valley, has changed in the last 25 years,” she said. “My purpose is to see what we can learn from the changes in our county landscape, which has been impacted by a population growth from 60,000 to 3 million in the last 100 years.”
Emotionally, she added, she is heartbroken about the loss of wild areas and wants to create a space for people to mourn and grieve the losses, but also offer their visions for the future.
Visitors will have the opportunity to provide input by writing about their hopes and visions for San Diego on paper leaves that will be attached to large photographs of trees posted in the gallery.
It is Wallen’s hope that we will preserve more wild open spaces and start to build up instead of out.
“The source of the problem can be traced to values,” she said. “Although there have been many good ideas put forth by environmentalists and planners, political necessity has not always lead to the best long-range choices. In other words, we have valued growth and economic prosperity over quality of life and protecting nature.
“We must realize that there is so much richness out there in the San Diego wild and we need to think hard about how we will protect it for the future. There are more threatened and endangered species in San Diego than any other county in the whole of the continental United States.”
If you go
■ What: ‘Cascading Memorials: Responses to Urbanization and Climate Change in
San Diego County’ by Ruth Wallen, through Feb. 11
■ Opening Reception: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Jan. 6
■ Where: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla
■ Gallery Hours:
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
■ Admission: Free
■ Contact: (858) 454-5872
■ Web: ljathenaeum.org
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