Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
LOS ANGELES, February 25 — Un-Space Ground: The Unvisited, Unnamed, and Uninhabited Empty Areas beneath the Normally-Used Parts of the Urban Landscape. A live site-specific public performance event curated by Ed Woodham, Art In Odd Places (NYC) and Deborah Oliver, Irrational Exhibits (LA)
I don’t have any real data on CAA demographics, but just as we’ll be reminded at tomorrow’s Academy Awards ceremony, where films with the juciest parts for actors will always win the awards for Cinematography, Set Design, Sound, etc, quite simply because the actors so dramatically dominate the voting ranks of the academy, so it seems as though the Art Historians dominate CAA. That’s cool. Some of my best friends are art historians! And, honestly, I am in awe of the scholarship they produce. But nobody every accused a field where the standard is to stand at a podium and read text off paper, word-for-word, for 20 minutes, as a pinnacle of inspiring programming…
Whether “they” scheduled two amazing Performance / Participatory / Interactive / Experiences, Un-Space Ground, and later today Nancy Popp’s Performing Space, for the last hours of the last day because… they wanted the best for last… or because they wanted the performative pranks after all the “serious” scholarship was safely concluded… I don’t know… Either way, Un-Space Ground and Performing Space were engaging conclusions to an inspiring week!
There are vast barren spaces in our urban and suburban environments that go largely unnoticed: empty lots, asphalt deserts, concrete caverns and paved territories beneath overpasses in the periphery of our collective gaze, where pedestrians rarely venture. These spaces are the open terrain we call “Un-Space Ground,” which beckon for enlivened activity in this time of occupation.
— Woodham & Oliver
Un-Space Ground was scheduled for Noon-1pm or “lunchtime,” which was both nice and perhaps problematic. As speakers at Wednesday’s Collaboratives and Collectives panel expressed, there can be a concern that institutional programmers use performance works as “lite entertainment” in between the “serious art history” and “serious art,” none-the-less, noon was an awfully nice hour to be outdoors on a February day in Southern California. From the description of Unvisited, Unnamed, and Uninhabited Empty Areas beneath the Normally-Used Parts of the Urban Landscape I was imagining something a little more exotic than this public, outdoor plaza space: if not the bowels of the convention center, at least the parking structure? Perhaps that was just my read.
I only had the opportunity to converse with one of the artists present, Lauren Makai Horowitz of Road Rage Rest Stop, who I’ll talk about below, for the others it was a cascading experience of “aromas” as I moved through the space. As I read from the text on this California Poppy Project, this seems to be both a conceptual work and a parallel urban intervention.
This group appeared to be auctioning off artworks and/or protection pledges for endangered species.
The multiplicity and parallelicity of performances was inspiring. This cacophony of works may well have diminished the power and reflection of individual works, but it did feel that there was also a gestalt that the density of works helped to establish. In an evening-length installation instead of a lunch break, having the works more distributed throughout the venue, with simple maps guiding the viewer, might also have been interesting.
I thought of this group as the “Robert Longo Players,” which, I suppose, was an unintended simulacral-ish move on my part. It’s funny how you can see body movement and reference it to a series of paintings, even though those paintings themselves reference dance moments. In mediated culture we so easily reference the “copy” as the “original.” Then again, don’t hate me Walter, but “copy” and “original” feel an awful lot link those shallow words “real” and “fake” to me. There’s no denying that we long for authenticity, but how do you find that in a world where “authenticity” is so commonly “performed.” As Franco Mattes concisely describes when he talk about masks, sometimes “fake” can be more “real” than “real.”
Regardless of all that, these slow, sustained, deeply grounded movements were a compelling counterpoint to the zippy effervescence of the plaza this afternoon. There may well have been other narratives which I’m uninformed about, but for me the deliberateness of these bodies in space served well to ground not just the artists themselves, but also we public whose surface pleasures on this busy-and-bright plaza might otherwise have floated away with all the performative energy and beautiful weather.
It’s a common film effect to “undercrank” or “overcrank” the film, and it is a very effective effect. When things play at “life speed” we slip all too easily into narrative space. With film we’re always ready to suspend disbelief. By forcing a narrative break, we are able to see more, or to see other, and investigate the experience on other domains and in other dimensions. So here in live performance, in a plaza filled with people moving at “normal” pace, these butoh-paced movements invited a deeper consideration of corporeality.
Above is Lauren Makai Horowitz helping a visitor to her Road Rage Rest Stop put on boxing gloves. He’s already selected the California highway of his choice, and velcro’d it onto the boxing thingy. Next he will experience the stress reducing joy of punching out the highway of his nightmare commutes.
I thought this installation was a lot of fun, but that the “mobile unit” version that could drive to actual motorists in need, would be a nice ingredient to make this “clever” installation one that really clicks conceptually. I encouraged her to either borrow a van for a mobile unit for a weekend from Neighbor Goods, or to try to buy one with funds from Kickstarter. And since I learned at Wednesday’s panel Fundraising in a Box: Crowdsourcing Microgrants that when you make an appeal on Kickstarter, RocketHub, Fractured Atlas, et al, 80% of your contributions come from people you already know: family, friends, blog readers, etc, I also encouraged Horowitz to start a mailing list right then and there, which I believe, I was the proud first signer of.
Thanks to all the artists and curators, Un-Space Ground was a sensory, and cerebral, delight.