Local artist Maru Garcia’s projects are just as unique as her background.
Since moving to California in 2017, Garcia has worked with scientists and technologists to create pieces that explore LA’s biological systems. If that sounds technical, it should – before becoming an artist, she worked as a chemist and an industrial researcher in Mexico.
“Before all this, I was conducting research on the chemistry of plants,” said Garcia. “We were trying to discover the impacts of genetic modifications to plants that were drought-tolerant.”
But after a full career in Mexico’s pharmaceutical industry, Garcia’s focus on people led her to an interest in the arts. She started up a chemistry research-based cosmetics brand, which she managed for 2 years before deciding to pivot full time into making art using her scientific expertise.
“Creative things have always been there for me, but I didn’t have time to explore them because I put more attention into other things. Around that time I found that there was a trend of people trying to bring together art and science. I came across a lot of pieces that were based in science, and I realized that it could be interesting to apply my background to art and bring my two passions together.”
The career change has treated her well. Her first major artist in residency was at the National Center of Genetic Resources in Mexico. After moving UCLA for her MFA, she began to use her work to closely examine the relationship between humans and their environment – what she calls in scientific terms, our “biological systems.”
Her work has picked up traction, showing at dozens of galleries across Los Angeles and internationally. She credits her scientific expertise for allowing her work to stand out.
“For work related to the environment – it’s best understood through the sciences. My background allows me to touch on them in a transdisciplinary way.”
In most cases, this “transdisciplinary approach” has translated to real impact. Her multimedia piece, ‘Vacuoles: Bio-Remediating Cultures’ (2019) used lead-contaminated soil samples from abandoned industrial sites and parks in southeast LA to make sculptures that are not only safe, but also leave a memorable impression on audiences.
“Bringing that research into the gallery is a call for people to wake up to environmental contamination in our local communities. I get messages from people telling me they had no idea what’s happening in those areas. But it’s a problem that’s existed for years.”
Her efforts have reached many audiences in the Los Angeles area. In 2018, her performance piece ‘Vivarium I’ took to the SoCal beaches to demonstrate the “network of interactions” between humans and marine organisms. Garcia also co-led the Sustainable Artist’s Handbook, partnering with the downtown nonprofit Navel LA to help other artists practice their craft in more “ecologically responsible methods.”
Given the success of pieces like ‘Vacuoles’, Garcia has planned several projects with similar themes in 2021. She hopes that getting the community directly involved in them will help extend her impact even further.
“With the new project I’m planning in collaboration with scientists from the Natural History Museum, the idea is to keep working on the same problem with lead contamination, and then work with people in the community to figure out the best ways for them to improve it.”
Garcia’s current project, ‘The Emergent’, examines the large-scale patterns created by living organisms as they interact with each other in their smaller, local environments. The project is a curation of work from local artists, and is now open at SuperCollider in the Beacon Arts Building. The gallery is just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Inglewood on North La Brea. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the gallery is available in-person by appointment and online. You can learn more about the project at the gallery’s Facebook page for the grand opening, and can learn more about Garcia on her personal site.
Article By Ben Golombek