Recycling the Apocalypse
By: Mark Turner
It’s a drizzly night in Los Angeles, and that makes any kind of journey all the more moody. The mist gives a sort of importance and urgency to travel,
you try to get where you are going as soon as possible.
Cars and bikes, even pedestrians, we are all somehow simultaneously more cautious and more aggressive. Although I don’t realize it until later, this the first of the night’s complimentary opposites.
And so it takes much longer than anticipated to travel over to Downtown for “Magnetic”, an event sponsored by Create:Fixate, hosted at Lot 613. It’s that part of Downtown Los Angeles that could be very dangerous to the uninitiated, but is mostly harmless if you know where you’re going.
There is a wet chill in the air, and the quick walk to the gallery helps only a little bit. First things first: something to warm up a bit, both thermally and socially.
Yes, a nice shot of whiskey will do.
Not quite ready to experience art or crowds, I venture outside into the little courtyard separating the two main spaces. One is a brightly lit gallery with traditional arts, housewares, clothing and jewelry boutiques, the other a darkened room, full of pulsating lights and sounds.
The rain has soaked all the tables and booths of this open air space,
making sitting or leaning a risky venture, and the few smokers must be content to stand in little huddles, or linger alone on the fringes.
Suitably warmed, it’s into the darkened gallery I head, drawn by both the pulses of the electronic music, and the pulses from a menagerie of light based artwork.
There is a kind of background lighting coming from a few sculptures hanging down from the ceiling along the walls. Each sculpture is about the size and shape of a swag lamp, maybe a little bigger, but rather than spun glass illuminated from within by a single bulb, these chandeliers seem to be fashioned from thin glow sticks.
Some seem to sway or twist in time with the music, but maybe that’s more an effect of the environment than the actual sculptures. It’s almost as if the artist has taken dozens of discarded raver glow sticks and reformed them into collections usefully and beautiful.
Past those entry lamps and the neon alter of the DJ booth, the dance floor is almost vacant, a few isolated individuals, grooving to decent, if a bit generic electronic dance music.
Wandering deeper into the dark room, I pass by a few more engaging light and projection based artwork, but they are occupied by others and I hesitate to disrupt those already occupied.
I find myself looking at a collection of smallish semi-transparent beach balls,
illuminated from within by shifting, muted lights. At first it just seems like another static light sculpture, but then I notice the sign that says something to the effect of: “Please play, but be gentle”.
And so for this particular set of gallery guests, I am the one to break the ice.
I kneel down and pick up one of the balls and softly toss it into the pile,
scattering the spherical shapes across the zone, redistributing the light and forms.
Others take notice of my action and begin to play along. I’m impressed by a girl who shuffles forward into the mass, her carefully selected designer rain boots acting like a snow plow.
As the crowd around the light spheres thickens and more people scramble to play catch, I move on, feeling like I did my part to, um, get the ball rolling…
I return to a piece that was occupied before, and now, all alone with the art, I examine it thoroughly. It looks like a set of concentric disks and rings,
with little lights on the outside and middle rings, and a single strong white light at the center.
Imagine a lighted disk, like that thing Iron Man has in his chest.
It’s connected to a set twelve zig-zag scissoring brackets,
so it can move both in and out, as well as around in a circle.
As you push and pull and shift the central disk,
all the outer and middle lights activate creating a kind of user controlled feedback system. “Lean to the left! Lean to the right! Push in, pull out! Light! Light! Light!”
I play around with that thing for a while until I realize others are waiting,
and move on to something less interactive, but no less amazing, no less three dimensional.
First, you take a plain white wall, and then you bend it at a few angles, obtuse and acute. Next be sure take that central square and invert it away from the viewer. Yeah, you gotta invert it.
Then project a perfectly paced set of evolving geometric forms,
all of them reminiscent of 8-bit vector graphics and textured landscapes from early video games. Set up a few benches for the passive, and leave a bit of floor space for the active, and you have yourself a great space to chill out in for a bit,
embracing various elements of the history of computer animation.
The wall sits in one corner at the back of the darkened room,
a good place to pause, sit and reflect a bit on things so far …
hm, what’s this: an empty glass?
In a near by corner is another bar, but I realize I’ve started a tab inside,
so I return the to the regular gallery space and grab another whiskey.
This environment is way more crowded and noisy,
people coming and going, and standing and staring,
so I’m just sort of letting my self be draw to certain
art rather than a systematic study.
First is a sort of glamour cyclops girl painted by Hunter Nesbit,
and I think she would be the perfect companion for “Mr. Uno”,
the one-eyed mascot of my friend’s new wave band.
Next are two large paintings of schools of fish, lots of different types,
but schools none the less, all seemingly fleeing some unseen larger predator.
The colors are such perfect mix of blues and greens you can’t help but feel underwater.
I cross the room and discover the amazing assemblages of Jena Priebe.
Each piece is composed of isolated pages of text,
items like music scores, ledger books, and manuscripts,
all ruffled up, curled and crumpled, but never really folded flat.
Sometimes the bundles of pages sit on the wall unadorned, sometimes bound by a simple wood frame.
One set sits under a glass lens placed in a cigar box.
She has formed the once flat and static pages into something alive and dynamic, bunching them just-so to highlight certain words and phrases, both musical and literal. And while at first it seems like these not-quite-ruined, yet not-quite-virgin pages are destined for the recycle bin,
the more you study them, the more dignity and beauty they seem to possess, embracing new life as art.
I cross the gallery again, to the opposite wall,
preferring to bounce around rather than do the typical shuffle:
Look at the art, Reflect on the art, Comment on the art, Move to the next art,
Look, Reflect, Comment, Move, Look, Reflect, – ugh – fuck that.
What’s over there…?
This wall has some really detailed, and really captivating geometric designs by Robert A.D. Frick. I’m reminded of Arabic designs found in mosques:
A set of small repeating geometric patterns,
slowly morphing into other patterns across the scope of the canvas,
so that any element stands on it’s own as a nice little device,
and the whole thing makes you stop for a long moment.
And after that long moment, you realize, no,
the painting is not moving it’s just a trick of the eye and geometry,
just a trick we call art.
The dizzying feelings fade and I continue to wander the lighted gallery.
I come next to a set of images so wonderfully iconic LA,
so completely capturing a specific mood of our city,
that I’m genuinely in shock for a bit.
Imagine the decades of stylistic changes across architecture and automobiles,
decades of history and migrations,
distilled into into a half dozen paintings, portraits really,
the pairing a solitary car with a typical LA street scene.
These works capture our eclectic hodgepodge of architecture,
the random diversity of building types we all take for granted,
and using a few examples of those foreign-born dream autos we all openly crave,
sporty spy cars and classic autos from Volvo, Citron and Volkswagen,
these paintings speak to a certain style of European culture we in LA embrace and emulate.
We get another crazy, yet completely sensible, juxtaposition of the alien and the familiar.
After a quick tipsy introduction by a cute girl in a red beret,
(you know the type: “This is the __artist__” she slurs),
I begin to learn more about Mr. Loic e338 Zimmermann.
On the way to the bar, and over a whiskey for me and a glass of wine for him,
we chat at length about these particular auto/buildings pairings he’s chosen,
(mostly from his neighborhood in Venice, it turns out),
and the overall mood of the arts in Los Angeles right now
(cautiously optimistic, it turns out).
We amicably part ways and I head upstairs,
pausing to observe and snap a few pics of the whole gallery space and bar below.
The upper loft gallery has one wall devoted to two artists,
both showing pieces that can best be described as ‘spiritual’,
very different from each other, yet commensurate as well.
The first group I see is a set of paintings by Michael Divine, and indeed they are divine.
He shows us imaginary landscapes, cathedrals in Valhalla, cloudy skies above barren deserts.
Each scene is populated by mortals and angles,
all of these elements extracted from the real world and transported to the surreal world.
The next group is a set of set of relief sculptures by Anthony Jegu, made from wood and resin, but very much looking like smoke-stained stone or aging bronze. These items seem like temple carvings or great calendar stones from some forgotten Central American civilization, and they are full of little serpents, monkeys, and humanoid monsters, just barely bulging out from the surface.
At this point my head is overly full of the mystical and magical,
and I’m starting to wonder:
you know, um, what does it all mean?
So it’s fortunate I glance across the loft,
and see what can only be, yes, the diagram of a circuit board!
Good, something I can grab a hold of and get back to reality.
It’s here that I discover the secret plans for that disk and light sculpture downstairs.
Sure enough it’s called “Concentricity 96” and Joshua Kirsch shows us a few
tantalizing bits of the details of how his wonderful light machine operates.
I’m thankful for the dose of technical inspiration to balance the spiritual inspiration,
and as it happens I start to hear a bit of musical inspiration.
I return downstairs to catch a set by an amazing trio (drums, stand up bass, saxophone)
doing that special kind of seemingly effortless improve jazz music.
The groove is fast and vibrant and gets a few of us to bop along,
and sway and and dance, each according to varied states of inebriation
During this set of music I notice a guy step out of the crowd a bit,
and while showing his friends a particular painting,
he leans behind the musicians to straighten the frame.
Maybe it’s the booze, maybe the music and art,
but I decide I want to know why this guy, who ever he is, adjusted the art work.
So when the song ends, I follow them into the gallery.
Along the way I revisit those cars and buildings,
snapping a few pics now that the space is free of crowds.
I also pass two really great seascapes by Bruce Taylor,
highlighting that strange feeling one gets at the ocean
when the sea surface is bright and the sky is mostly dark, but each highlighted by moonlight.
I catch up to my target and confront him:
“Are you the artist or just a stickler for esthetics?” I ask.
He somewhat hesitantly explains that he works for the gallery,
hung most of the paintings, and was just helping keep things tidy.
We chat a bit about the show, our favorites and such,
and he is trying to find the mastermind organizer of the show to introduce me,
but she is nowhere to be seen.
I thank him again for such an unexpectedly good show and presentation.
I move on to another set of paintings and I’m pleasantly surprised by
images that are so post-apocalyptic, so surreal, so wonderfully dark and absurd,
that they both delight and upset me.
Pod-people, sprout bean-stalk-like from broken pavement, the focus of a wasted landscape,
complete with fractured yellow traffic lines and bent yellow cross-walk signs,
easily recognized symbols of the Apocalypse.
Robots run over alien landscapes while ghost animals sit upon tree stumps,
each type of “monster” equally at home in these non-human worlds.
A female fire elemental dances, conjured up by robot devils,
fiddling away while Pax Humana fades, and a new world dawns.
She is flanked by a pair of pretty princesses with billowing skirts,
acting as aquarium and terrarium, holding the last specimens of the forgotten world.
Craig Cartwright has given us a few glimpses into a fantastic future world,
so self-consistent and certain, you wonder if the message is some kind of prophecy:
take what you can of this world and hold it very close, for soon things will change.
And change I must: the jazz combo in the front room has started up again,
and they pull me away from images full of future memories into sonics filled with present moments.
This group plays that kind of interesting music that is
both simple genius commanding attention,
and complex idiocy forcing everyone to dance.
A crowd circles the trio and we all nod and bop along,
until a single brave girl (or is she just super drunk?) ventures out into the open space,
and her sways and shuffles highlight how good this music really is,
and encourage all of us to move in earnest.
I dance a bit with her, a bit more just by myself,
and mostly with the music and circled crowd in general,
before dancing away.
I’m intent on checking out the various items I missed in the center of the main gallery space.
There are a few racks of clothing, and a few tables with jewelry, but that’s not my thing, so I move on.
Along one low half-wall are a series of small table lamps fashioned from metallic parts:
automotive disks, nuts and bolts, gears of all kinds.
These former engines of progress and motion are now static and reflective.
Where once they may have served to help convey freight and cargo,
now they are destined to help convey ideas and images,
illuminating books and conversations.
This is another clear example of a theme about this exhibit:
Recycling the Apocalypse.
All this high minded theory about what was, and what may be, starts to unnerve me a bit
and so I return to the safety of the darkness outside, to get a breath of fresh misty air.
The patio is scattered with little groups of smokers,
and a few midnight snackers partaking of the taco bar.
The electronic music from inside the interactive light gallery has turned good again,
so I return there and dance a little bit more. It’s a nice mix of mostly individuals
and loose groups of people just grooving in his or her own way to the particular sounds.
Across the room is a flash of color, a shifting of movement,
and I see a woman in some kind of a multi-tiered ball gown,
each level of the dress illuminated from within.
With every shimmy and shake she sends forth
waves of light energy across the dance floor
and we all give a space for this impromptu performance.
Her friends have cannibalized the other illuminated objects of her attire,
taking away the large trooper hat and fur collar for their own,
and thereby forming a kind of fairy-world entourage.
I bounce a bit back and forth between each main gallery space, enjoying the music:
– a DJ spinning records, electronic and energetic,
filling the sparsely illuminated darkness with a anonymous mood,
– a trio playing instruments, organic and material,
filtering into the brightly lit gallery with specific attitudes.
These complimentary opposites naturally complete the full circle
and induce a truce between the conflicting feelings of the night.
In the end I am pleasantly surprised by the latest efforts of
those who create and fixate.