The pyrotechnic Atmospheres series began in 1968, when Chicago lined an unsuspecting Pasadena Street with billowing fog machines, an action that was meant to radically feminize an urban space, cloud its use value, and soften its hard man-made edges. The series evolved over the next decade as a protest against the male-dominated art scene of the 1970s, where the land artists were almost entirely men. Chicago began to experiment with fireworks and dry ice, using colored smokes in a range of shades, and staging her events in popular areas with heavy foot traffic including malls, colleges and art museums, along with empty landscapes like beaches, deserts, and forests. The artist once joked that she pretended to light the Pasadena Art Museum, which housed more work by men than women, on fire. Eventually she began to combine women and smoke, painting the performers to match the colors of the smoke. In 2012, the scope of her projects doubled, with the help of new funding that she had been unable to receive early in her career. The artist began staging larger and more elaborate firework and flare displays, creating more representational images, sometimes configured as butterflies; a transient creature with feminine mystique.
Chicago played with the inherent density of smoke as a way to disrupt what the eye can see, as well as to soften and inject beauty into the landscape. On display at Nina Johnson will be a series of twelve photographs documenting these delicate and beautiful performances, along with one related video work.