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Memories of Tomorrow’s Sunrise

Posted by Megan Frances Abrahams on  June 30, 2022
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June 8–July 15, 2022
Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery / Cal State LA

Curated by Jason Jenn and Vojislav Radovanović
with Mika Cho, Professor, ART/Director, Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery, Cal State LA ​

Featured artists: Enrique CastrejonSerena JV Elston, Anita Getzler, Jason JennIbuki Kuramochi, Marne LucasTrinh Mai, Hande SeverVojislav RadovanovićMarval A RexKayla Tange, Nancy Kay Turner and Jessica Wimbley.

Memories are always deeply personal and vulnerable to suggestion, sometimes nebulous, dreamlike and elusive, possibly distorted, often rooted in objects like keepsakes and heirlooms that tie families together across generations. This thoughtfully conceived and curated exhibition connects disparate artistic visions, varied media and divergent approaches to the creative process, linking them in a unifying theme of time and memory in a powerful and haunting way.

The show has a palpable ambiance, a prevailing subdued aura tinged with an overriding sense of sorrow and loss. On entering the gallery, an initial impression is conveyed by sound rather than imagery. In the background, discordant ambient audio from various looped videos creates an eerie otherworldly mood, the non-verbal creaks and squeaks intermingling, contributing to an overall disquiet.

Adding heft to the show, recurring thematic threads surface in unexpected ways, even among the dramatically distinct bodies of work by the 12 featured artists. Included in the mix are site-specific installations, assemblage sculpture, video, ceramics, collage and photography. Themes such as birth, maternity, time and death – propelled by manmade objects – point to the earth and the idea of re-growth and re-generation, suggesting the idea that life is about both renewal and borrowed time.

 

 


Images: (Left to right) Trinh Mai: Begins with Tea, Jessica Wimbley: The True Story of Edges (still image), Jason Jenn: Sharing a Seat with the Poets,  and Marne Lucas: Wet Passengers Cave (Ascension) 2022. Megan Frances Abrahams Photos.


 

Striking among these, is Trinh Mai’s installation, Begins with Tea, comprised of rows of tea sachets with tiny sepia-toned family photos enclosed along with grains, seeds, herbs, noodles – symbols of heritage, things passed down through generations. Hande Sever’s black and white photos beckon the viewer to look more closely. In them, a female figure interacts with the outdoor environment and various incongruous manmade objects – a newspaper, a fence, papers, costumes. Jessica Wimbley’s digital video installation, The True Story of Edges, employs a clever framing device so much of the footage is projected within the silhouette of a woman’s hair, as if presenting memories as they transpire in her head.

Allusions to pregnancy, birth and motherhood pervade Ibuki Kuramochi’s video installation, in which ocean waves are linked to procreation. In his quiet contemplative installation, Sharing a Seat with the Poets, Jason Jenn sets a scene: a divan with plants, rocks and stacks of books, among which one title stood out with particular resonance for its reference to the finite reality of life: Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir.

Anita Getzler symbolically pays homage to victims of the Holocaust in related sensitive assemblage works that combine historic items like women’s watches, symbolizing time, and Memorial candles from the Jewish tradition. In Vojislav Radovanović’s Days Devoured by Locusts, the artist’s video montage imagery is echoed by an installation of broken glass, tree branches planted in cement, bird figurines, models, feathers, shells and other found objects seemingly implying a confluence of scattered mementos of life. In producing her evocative sepia toned two-dimensional collages, Nancy Kay Turner incorporates a menu of diverse media and materials, including bread residue, lace, parchment, animal skeletons and staples, rendering a compelling vintage effect.

On some level, Memories of Tomorrow’s Sunrise is about layering – both figuratively and literally. Materials, often unconventional, are layered with metaphoric references to time. This is a careful compilation of works connected by family, heredity, tradition, loss and layers of time. For what are memories if not layers of time?

Visit: https://www.laartdocuments.com/memories

 


Top Image: Enrique Castrejon: The Realization You Are Losing Your Memory with Frequent Confusion and Disorientation, (2021) Foam core board, steel pins, acid-free archival glue, acrylic, pastels, sepia, graphite pigmented ink, black marker, paper, artist tape, thumbtacks and strips of paper with Alzheimer’s data from Alzheimer’s Los Angeles Fact Sheet 2018 and LA County Health Status Profiles 2017. Courtesy Bermudez Projects and the Fraijo Family. Megan Frances Abrahams Photo.

Art Indigenous Santa Fe: The Launch of an Art Fair Places North American Indigenous Art in A New Light

Posted by Megan Frances Abrahams on  April 22, 2022
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Category: Home Feature, Santa Fe
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Art Indigenous Santa Fe:  August 18 to 21, 2022

Located at the end of the historic Santa Fe trail, the city of Santa Fe has long been a commercial and cultural mecca. Founded in 1610, Santa Fe became a trading post in the 1800s, and went on to evolve into a major center for Native American art, a tradition that has continued ever since.

In 1922, the town became the site of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Santa Fe Indian Market, now the largest Native American event in the world. The annual juried art fair showcases the work of 1,000 Indigenous artists from the United States and Canada. As part of its Centennial this summer, the SWAIA will launch Art Indigenous Santa Fe, a new art fair for galleries that represent contemporary North American Indigenous artists. The gallery-based show will be produced and directed by seasoned art show producer Kim Martindale.

The fair is geared to recontextualize Indigenous art, giving it its due in a new way by including artists working with galleries who have not previously been part of Indian Market. This new level of recognition is long overdue, said Martindale. “We’re really bringing in a whole other world of art that hasn’t been so much of a focus in Santa Fe. The world is starting to get a taste of that by what happened in Basel for the first time, in Miami, having seven Basel level galleries actually show Indigenous art, and two of those galleries having solo exhibitions in their booths. That’s an amazing thing, that moment in time that just happened in December.”

The featured artists are all part of the North American Indigenous art scene, but the presence of this new fair provides a sort of perspective shift for Indigenous art. Many of these gallery artists have attended blue chip art schools like Rhode Island School of Design and the highly regarded fine arts programs of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. As such, while these artists are part of the Indigenous tradition, they have established a certain cachet in the art world at large, in some cases with work that commands high prices at auction. “We’re bringing that to Santa Fe so you can see the full spectrum,” Martindale said.

The concept for the show has been in the works for almost three years, coinciding in an elegant way with the timing of the SWAIA Centennial. Martindale pointed out that North American Indigenous art has only recently been given the attention it merits. It wasn’t until 2017 that New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art showed Native American art in its American wing. “I think it’s an important statement, because for so long, in most museums, it was put off into the ethnographic wing. These are living cultures. They didn’t die,” said Martindale. “They still are living functioning cultures and here’s this art that’s coming out of them.”

Indigenous art hasn’t had that moment where people have really looked at it, Martindale said. People often bypass it or relegate it to craft. “Whatever tradition they have, Native American or First Nations artists are artists first, but it’s the traditions they come out of that inspire how they paint and what develops their style. They all have a unique tradition, but they’re all part of the indigenous cultures of the U.S. and Canada – and that should be honored.”

Martindale produces the two Objects of Art Shows (The Tribal and Textile Art Show and American Indian Art Show) and ran the LA Art Show for 25 years. He’s also been a devoted collector of North American Indigenous art since childhood. He recalled, at the age of six, displaying his collection of arrowheads, seashells and bottles in his bedroom, which he named the “Kimrarium Museum.” This latest iteration is an extension of that. Martindale said his love of collecting is the underlying force behind this new project. “It’s what drives me really,” he said. “It’s part of my DNA.”

As part of his long-range vision for the concept, Martindale hopes to take the show to other cities, like Miami and LA. Ultimately, he’d like to bring selected work by featured artists to fairs in Europe, Asia and elsewhere around the world. At some point, the concept would expand to include exchanges with other fairs, like the Moroccan Biennale. “Its time is really now,” Martindale said. “There are so many things that are coming together at this moment, which makes me excited about this project.”

The inaugural Art Indigenous Santa Fe takes place August 18 to 21, 2022. Click here to read more.

Francisco Palomares is an emerging artist. His artwork is inspired by urban landscapes of cities and the complex relations within.  He was born and raised in Boyle Heights. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Long Beach. He went on to study art in Florence, Italy and Guangzhou, China. Palomares concentration in art, were on the fundamentals of drawing and painting. 

In an interview with artist Palomares he shares the impact that China made on him.  On this trip the question of identity buoyance straight to the epidermis surface of his skin. On several occasions he was asked, why China. His reply was “I did not choose China. It chose me.  At CSULB instructor Yu Ji, a Chinese artist who lived and studied art during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, was offering an opportunity of a lifetime to study in two different art colleges in China. I chose Guangzhou, China. Which is in the south of China, two hours away from Hong Kong on train.”

 

 

Palomares describes the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts as a hub for school activities. It is in a small island with 11 other colleges. Upon arriving in China, it was hot and humid to the point where he thought he was “breathing fire.” As he walked out of the air-conditioned airport he describes being “bombarded by taxi drivers looking to take me somewhere. I can only think this is my life for the next 5 months.” This experience posed a cultural and language challenge.  Being away from his L.A Latino community was a moment of examination. The experience in China “whether it was what I wanted or not,” brought an existential inner dialogue about who he is and what is his purpose.

In the Academy of Fine Arts Palomares was exposed to his fellow artist’s renditions of European Renaissance Masters, he was eager to pursue the quality and skills they had achieved.

In a course of experimental mark making, Palomares explored various techniques and processes. He would soon discover that his instructor Yu Ji, a master at rendering figurative drawing was common practice in China, yet in the United States it was an outdated practice in colleges. 

Back in East LA

Little did Palomares realize not only did he bring East L.A to China, but he brought China to East L.A. Isolated as the only Mexican American/ Latino in the art college his identity was cemented by restoring and retracing his Mexican/Latino roots. He pursued the evaluation of an aesthetics he had been taught.  This would lead him to do a series of paintings that describes his rite of passage titled Caballitos.

A bright colorful Mexican traditional piñata on the foreground of a 17th century European landscape titled ‘Caballito’ (oil on canvas, 54” x 62”) becomes his point of departure. Palomares comes to terms between the European school of training and the break from this classical style of painting. The piñata series becomes his exclamation mark. The juxta position of a piñata among a European landscape shatters to pieces Palomares’s existential struggle. 

The duel in this painting is transferred to the viewer, to question specific style, thought and methodology taught over other means of expressions.  By referencing an ancient Mesoamerican celebration, the piñata, Palomares breaks the confinement of single narratives contained within the four corners of a canvas. The piñata series became his alter ego layered with his cultural memory.

In his recent works described by Palomares as new inspirations a still life bouquet of flowers in a European style is converted outside any novelty way of conceiving something distinctively new. Homage to My Mothers (oil on canvas 36”x48”) pays a visual homage to the many mothers of all ages as domestic workers, housekeepers, hence the working class is a painting that does not dilute a class that navigates many crossroads as women.  It is an extraordinary painting where flowers and laboring tools coincide in unison, dignity. In Clorox (oil on canvas 24”x24”) his second rendition of a bouquet of flowers are no longer held in a vase but a clear plastic container. The background in this painting is set on a marble counter and wall hinting a fluent patron. This piece is a visual anecdote, close to home.

At the end of his journey he realized, China “allowed me to see my ego. It allowed me to go to the bare minimum. I had all I needed no more no less. I learned I could be a Latino artist no matter where in the world I was. Regardless where I am, I do not stop being Latino, brown, different, an artist which comes through my defiance with a bright warm palette in my artwork.”

Palomares is part of a group show, Unending Chapters, viewing at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) from April 25, 2020 * August 1, 2020 with an opening reception on April 25th

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

George Orwell 1984

“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Robert Heinlein

In 1916 Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings launched Café Voltaire and the Dada movement in Zurich in protest to the madness of World War I. Hennings and a number of unrecognized women carried on performing radical visual/sound/text works for decades afterwards. Between 1922 and 1932 Kurt Schwitters constructed and performed the unprecedented sound poem Ursonate using German phonemes in a sonata structure, at the same time he was building the Merzbau in his Hanover home. During the 1950s Merce Cunningham and John Cage redefined what constituted music and dance and profoundly influenced the emerging generation of choreographers, visual artists, composers and filmmakers that formed the experimental laboratory Judson Church Dance Theater in early 1960s New York. Many of the participating artists went on to become the leading innovators of the last half of the twentieth century.  At the same time Fluxus artist/theorist Dick Higgins coined the term intermedia (structural elements from two or more media blended into one to form a new medium) to describe this kind of work.

Despite what many may think in this amnesiac time of reordered, mediated and inverted realities, history matters, knowledge matters, creativity matters. And yes, aesthetics matter. In this century’s age of repetition, appropriation, spectacle and decadence, it has become easy to forget just how radical and inventive the groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary, time-based arts of the early and middle twentieth century were, and how they have shaped and influenced what has followed. What is even more astonishing is how fresh, how relevant and surprisingly contemporary those intermedia works merging visual, sonic, kinetic and textual elements, remain today.  

In this cultural moment of instant consumption and regurgitation, of imitation and erasure, maintaining the veracity and authenticity, meaning and spirit of an artist’s work, especially when an artist is deceased, matters more than ever.  However it also raises challenging questions about differences between reproduction, homage, interpretation and appropriation. For some works formal issues are paramount, while for others it is a matter of spirit, intent and character. Thus serious issues have arisen about not only the legacy and preservation of works, but the modes and forms of re-presentation. This is of particular concern to those performing artists of the later half of the century who are still living, and must consider how to deal with their own legacies. It is also a matter to be thoughtfully considered by contemporary artists who seek to draw from those histories.

 Over one week three very different performances confronted these issues in different ways, to a varying degree of success. In the first performance – Al Di Là, An Evening of Sound Works by Simone Forti, the artist succeeded in resurrecting her own works from the 1960s in a mini-retrospective, not only honoring her own history but doing so in a manner true to where she is now in the present moment.  A week later Jacqueline Bobak paid homage to three of the unsung women of the Dada era by giving them voice in her opera Dada Divas. Rather than restaging ephemeral works, she used the artists personae to reveal how their struggles and concerns remain eerily prescient today. Finally there was the staging of the misnamed Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, a contemporary confection directed by Zoe Aja Moore, as part of the L.A Philharmonics Weimar Variations series.  Although a pleasurable entertainment on its own, it bore little resemblance if any to Kurt Schwitters original work. Even the program notes misrepresented Schwitters intent and structure.

Not only was Simone Forti one of the seminal innovators at Judson Church Dance Theater, but her work was solidly anchored in and inspired by the ideas and forms of her history-making avant-garde predecessors. In the vibrant cross-pollinating downtown New York art world of the 1960s and 70s where poets, musicians, dancers, Fluxus, Conceptual and Minimalist artists interacted and collaborated, Forti forged her own unique intermedia language merging improvised movement, spoken text, and sound into a single body, whether it be a solo or group work. No embellishments. Just the body, the voice, and sometimes some found materials or objects engaged in an experiential process. Half a century later Forti performed her early works with new younger players in the same spirit of discovery and invention giving them new life in the present moment.  

White-haired and less agile at eighty-four, Forti nevertheless performed a full-length evening with singers Julia Holter and Jessika Kenney, musicians Corey Fogel and Tashi Wada (son of Fluxus musician Yoshi Wada) making it appear as easy as a stroll in the park. Over the years she has taught her techniques to numerous students, but to bring meaning to simplicity, requires an inner balance and harmony, complete presentness in the moment and in each gesture and interaction, as if it were newly discovered.

PHOTO: STEVEN GUNTHER

Forti is first and foremost a choreographer, thus in Al Di Là, she did not simply attempt to replicate early works, but orchestrated and arranged them from a contemporary perspective. Having bridged the distance between her own past and present, Forti established the groundwork for survival for what is an essentially ephemeral art form. Taking into consideration the process-based, improvisational, open-ended aspects of her oeuvre, her scores function as sets of instructions that leave room for variances in performance. However they are governed by an aesthetic philosophy and attitude, and specific structural concepts that must be fully comprehended and practiced in order for the works to be interpreted and performed by others in the future without losing their “authenticity” or character. For example they might be arranged in a different order, or combined with other movement pieces.

Al Di Là began with a video of cats playing in the outdoors, a reminder of Forti’s decades long involvement with nature and the movement and behavior of animals. What followed were eight short sound works each one exploratory in its use of materials. Forti blows into a U-shaped tub, short notes almost like birdcalls. It is very minimal, spatial. She puts the ends mouth to ear, tries both ends. The silent spaces between sounds make you pay attention, pauses filled with anticipation. Fogel shakes a metal sheet hanging from a dowel. He punches it, slaps it on the ground, steps on it, rolls out strips of gold metallic paper, shaking out a duet of vibrating percussive pitches between the two materials. Forti joins the paper’s tinselly emanations with her tube whistle.  The interaction is playful and utterly unpretentious.

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

In Fire on the Mountain and Lullaby to an Ant, two pieces Forti refers to as “Hippie Gospel Songs” from 1969-70, the two singers first offer up simple melodic tunes with lovely harmonies. The second song evolves into an extended vocal excursion with animal-like howls and calls, evoking the sounds of the night in the woods. To further enhance the environmental allusions the performers ascend and descend the stairs on either side of the audience singing wowowa, woo wo oh waa. Rapid trilling beckons, followed by lots of vibrato in response, and the long low warning notes of a cat – eeeh yoowww oooo — that ends in a high screech and a yowl. 

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

The hippy gospel songs interfaced with the pieces involving the use of objects, intersections of movement and sound through space, the body and voice in intimate duets, resonant full-bodied silences and stillness. Forti quietly circles in space, walks on all fours, is joined by the others. She twirls Wada standing in a looped rope, sits in a chair watching it unfurl, sings in a thin plaintive voice “Did we fly to earth or will we fly away?” She runs a vacuum cleaner as Fogel beats on a drum boom ba   boom ba boom ba.  Images of landscapes and grazing animals are projected joined by extended overlapping vocal tones and harmonic vibrations, and the amplified humming of Forti’s vacuum cleaner motor. Despite Forti’s low-key yet distinctive presence, these works do not depend on her persona, but on her spirit of inquiry and trust.

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

* * *

To leave a legacy you must first speak to the time you are in. That of course does not assure that your work will survive either the vagaries of historical selection, or the politics of recognition and preservation. Especially if you are a woman!  If your work does not fit easily into an established category and/or economic value system it can fade into obscurity, while your male counterparts claim the territory of primary innovators. This is just one of the themes of Jacqueline Bobak’s riotous and sometimes fittingly unruly opera Dada Divas as it pays homage to three such women who were pioneers in the Dada movement, two of whom I had never heard of. Bobak, who is both a composer and a scholar, wisely did not attempt to reconstruct their individual works. Instead she channeled their spirit and personal aesthetics in order to articulate their life experiences and creative output. The result was a cacophonous assemblage of sound, text and imagery, drawn from archival and biographical material, as well as the artists’ own writings that illustrated the status and position of women in art and society. Their struggle as women artists to achieve autonomy and recognition from the early 20th century through following decades still resonates today a century later, be it in running for President, composing an opera, conducting an orchestra, directing a major film, or having your art garner million dollar investments. 

All of these women were involved with poetry, performance, feminism, and visual art often made with found objects. Although highly regarded by many of their peer artists and writers with whom they shared a similar revulsion for war, scorn for bourgeois values, and a desire to overthrow the past, they were left behind, overlooked by history despite their influential roles and early renown. Bobak, played by Meltem Ege in the role of the Scholar/Narrator, establishes the theme in rhyming verse, naming names and roles —“Individualists, Experimentalists, Nonconformists, idealists, Feminist satirists, artists, Poets, painters and freelancers, Pacifist performers, prancers,…… It’s a shame and insane, That these dames have no name, In the catalog of fame. My campaign: to gain their acclaim!

The stage was strewn with piles of cardboard boxes referencing composer Bobak’s meticulous archival research, extracting stored away texts, old photos and objects and reconstituting them.  The furniture, props and costumes capture the mood of an artist’s atelier, a boudoir, and the cafés and cabarets they habituated where an androgynous Rose Selavy, (Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego in drag —  Juris Žvīkovs), plays popular tunes on an old upright piano. The three divas — Emmy Hennings (Bobak), Mina Loy (Micaela Tobin), and Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (Sharon Chohi Kim) —perform in a fast-paced series of  short vignettes showcasing their artistic exploits and frustrations with their circumstances. Despite illness, addiction, rejection, loss and poverty they defiantly prevailed, and did so with great panache. The costumes and props function as metaphors for the complexities and contradictions in their roles as women and artists.

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

Baroness Elsa displayed her exhibitionism clad in a black bra, green sarong adorned with clanging soup cans, and various headdresses including a birdcage. The Scholar read from a letter written by Elsa to Djuna Barnes, that illuminates her extravagant parody of female sexuality as a delectable commodity simultaneously enticing and dangerous. 

“I went to the consulate with a large—sugarcoated birthday cake upon my head with 50 flaming candles lit—I felt just so spunky and affluent—! In my ears I wore sugar plumes or matchboxes—I forget which. Also I had put on several stamps as beauty spots on my emerald painted cheeks and my eyelashes were made of guilded porcupine quills—rustling coquettishly—at the consul—with several ropes of dried figs dangling around my neck to give him a suck once and again—to entrance him. I should have liked to wear gaudy colored rubber boots up to my hips with a ballet skirt of genuine goldpaper white lacepaper covering it [to match the cake] but I couldn’t afford that.”

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

If the Baroness is in turn sassy and sultry in her resistance to convention, a bold seductress and rebellious feminist warrior, Emmy Hennings takes on “masculinity” with cool satirical aplomb attired in tuxedo and tails. She musically challenges Duchamp’s feminine parody Rose Selavy. They alternate No! and Yah! tossing sheet music about and ripping it up, all the while singing art songs in German.  She triumphs by attaching the discards to her jacket with clothespins. Mina, on the other hand, is the image of femininity in corseted Victorian undergarments, raging against the “cages” that restrain her gender. These include offenses committed against her body and mind, a struggle with a bustle with a lamp inside it, and extended vocal antics, including bird trills, guttural sounds, deep sighs, melodramatic operatic outbursts, choking and gagging, and a range of vocal utterances.  She knocks over boxes, and at one point Emmy and Elsa tie her up in an elaborate web of yarn, trapping her like a fly in a spider web, from which she breaks free.

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

Very much in the spirit of Dada, the music was collage of Dada babbling, warbling and singing in nonsense language, numerous wordless operatic solo arias, poetic recitations, declamations and manifestos, and recorded sound effects. The operatic passages were not melodic, but heady insistent high octave exhortations mixing resolve with resignation, undertones of complaint with overtones of emotive strain. The recitations/declamations flaunted bawdy humor, alongside Mina’s litany of abuses, and outbursts of indignation. Various vignettes visualized Dada aesthetic stances that demonstrated the women’s rebellious spirit. They also offered critical commentary applicable to conditions in our current culture.  When Duchamp dressed all in black carries out a miniature pink toilet (rather than the male urinal) the Baroness challenges the supremacy of the famous man, declaring — “I will redesign the sublime and will sign a shrine.” The women set up a canvas on an easel, stick all sorts of refuse and detritus on it in an assemblage painting that the Baroness auctions off at ridiculously low prices.  At the same time they play a collaged tape of radio ads for remedies for the common cold, the merits of toothpaste and cigarettes, and offers of instant money. An adept commentary on our consumer culture, it reminded me of the satirical 1991 media critiques by radio artists — Donald Swearingen’s Salvation at 1 AM and the late Don Joyce’s Advertising Secrets

PHOTOS: STEVEN GUNTHER

At more than ninety minutes long Dada Divas is a work-progress in need of disciplined editing. True to its Dada spirit, structure and subject matter it is open to any numbers of variations of sequencing, deletions, rearrangements and additions, and even diverse performance contexts as the material grows and evolves.  After all, the Baroness engaged in street performances and cabarets. Other women of the era may yet emerge, and perhaps even their more recent progeny in the equally male-dominated neo-Dadist Fluxus movement of the 1960s. This integral flexibility of form is central to the success of Bobak’s artistic mission and a key to how it maintains its authenticity and significance in the future.

*  * *  *

If by chance you were unfamiliar with the work and philosophy of Kurt Schwitters and had no idea what the Ursonate was, you would have found this latest production directed by Zoe Aja Moore to have been a delightfully engaging, energetic forty-five minutes of highly entertaining performance. If on the other hand you were cognizant of Schwitters’ concept, structure and intent, you might have been taken aback at the very idea of using both Schwitters’ title and his name. In fact Schwitters would have been appalled at this misrepresentation of his seminal masterpiece. Titling this work Ursonate was misleading and it would have been more appropriate to have subtitled it (inspired by the Ursonate). Out of respect for Kurt Schwitters’ legacy it is important to set the record straight before talking about this latest performance as something in its own right.

In her program notes Moore mistakenly cites the Ursonate as a “Dada sound poem” which it is not.  In fact the Dada artists threw Schwitters out of the group because he wore a bowler hat and owned property in Hanover, and thus was considered too bourgeois. Moore describes her production as “an assembly of bodies and voices to celebrate the primal, the intuitive, the absurd. A group incantation for immediacy, destruction and possible euphoria (in dark times). An experiment in indeterminacy (in the spirit of Dada). “ And indeed it was! But the Ursonate is none of those things. There is nothing either intuitive or indeterminate about it. Quite the opposite! Schwitters worked on the performance of the Ursonate over that same ten years (1922 -1932) he was building his constructivist Merzbau installation in his Hanover home. It is a precisely and meticulously structured sonata that is simultaneously a phonetic sound poem and a musical work, linguistically and sonically constructed of German phonemes. Thus it must be performed in German! The fact that Moore’s version was performed in English is admittedly a Dada gesture in its irreverent disregard for either the legacy, or authenticity of the original. Replacing the German with English (and in some renditions English with what resembled Spanish and Italian accents) is a cheeky rejection of the work’s established formal concerns. It embraces the Dada idea of dismantling the past, and disrupting established rules of legitimacy.

In addition to the intonations, accents and rhythms of English, Moore added emotive content to the vocalizations giving different performers individual expressive attitudes, variations in volume, timbre, vocal delivery and even musical style.  This was amplified by gestures, postures, poses, stances and dances, costumes and choreography out of which emerged characters and narrative. It began with a solo of very slow, evenly spaced, carefully articulated syllables with long pauses between them, then a fast rhythmic duet accompanied by sharp angular arm movements. The vocalizations included questioning and conversational tones, assertive ones of an argumentative child, repetitive utterances that changed in volume, syllables spit out like a punch. Then belted out like a rock singer. Another woman sang in a high soprano. Someone else tap danced in a black sequin jacket while bee bee bee oka oka were given dramatic emphasis. Another vocal rendition sounded like a nursery rhyme, and a duet took on pop song beats. The ten-person ensemble added playful sing-song recitations, and the rhythms of school cheers and chants, marching songs, and camp songs to the phonetic texts.  A mocking tone made me think of rebellious teenagers all banging their spoons on the cafeteria tables. Very Dada indeed! It culminated in a raucous noisy crowd scene sounding like a disruptive schoolyard protest march that ends with something resembling a classroom recitation of one’s ABCs.

PHOTOS: ROB BLUM

The entire performance had a contemporary pop musical, art cabaret flair, with lots of Dada choreographic and costume references, spirited performers and lively visually engaging staging. Unfortunately none of it had anything to do with Schwitters’ conception or score that was merely appropriated and collaged onto it. They might just as well have invented their own phonetic text in tribute to Schwitters’ masterwork.

I am not suggesting that Schwitters’ sound poem should be frozen in time which would in fact deny it its legacy, or that it cannot be translated and performed in a fresh contemporary mode that is true to its character and structure. For a brilliantly innovative example one has only to look at Jack Ox and Kristen Loree’s visual and sonic intermedia performance in which Ox’s projected visualization of the fourth movement of Schwitters’ Ursonate was simultaneously accompanied by Loree’s in-sync vocalization. This inventive translation was presented at the Digital dome theater at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2015. A video of the third movement of the sonata with Ox’s hand-painted syllabic images mapped to the “z” axis of Loree’s body movements can be viewed on Ox’s website at https://intermediaprojects.org/pages/ProjectInfo2.html

A fifteen minute film ursonate/URSONATE about her visualization concept and process, includes a soundtrack with both Schwitters’ own original recorded performance and Loree’s contemporary interpretation can be viewed at https://intermediaprojects.org/pages/UrFilmVimeo.html  Ox’s work demonstrates the real meaning of an artist’s legacy. She has opened up new ways to perceive, experience and understand Schwitters’ work by expanding its form into a different realm while retaining its original concept and intent. Loree, who spent ten years researching and developing her performance, brought fresh new life and meaning to the vocal music. Together, their presentation was not only transformative but intellectually and sensually elevating.   

COVER PHOTO BY STEVEN GUNTHER 

Al Di Là: An Evening of Sound Works by Simone Forti
REDCAT, Los Angeles.  February 1, 2020

Jacqueline Bobak: Dada Divas
REDCAT, Los Angeles. February 8, 2020
Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate  Directed by Zoe Aja Moore
REDCAT in conjunction with the L.A. Philharmonic’s Weimar Variations
February 6, 2020

Additional images, sound and information on Jack Ox’s Ursonate see her website at

https://www.jackox.net/pages/Ursonate/ur_MAINindex.html
https://www.jackox.net/pages/Ursonate/UrPaintMv1.html
https://www.jackox.net/pages/Ursonate/UrPaintMv2.html
https://www.jackox.net/pages/Ursonate/UrPaintMv3.html
https://www.jackox.net/pages/Ursonate/UrPaintMv4.html

https://intermediaprojects.org/pages/UrFilmVimeo.html
https://intermediaprojects.org/pages/ProjectInfo2.html

For information on Simone Forti’s CD Al Di Là, a full-length collection of recordings from Saltern 2018 see https://simoneforti.bandcamp.com/album/al-di-l

Mexican conceptual artist Tania Candiani’s presentation of “Camouflage” at the Freize Projects February 14 -16 2020 in the city of Los Angeles charts the historical narrative of the forced Japanese labor encampments in California during WWII by simulating the fabrication of giant protective covers to camouflage military equipment.  

Her installation at first sight seems friendly, inoffensive, nonthreatening, and distant from any inhumane connotation. Candiani is moved by American photographer Dorothy Lange’s documentation of the Japanese internment camps. In particular, one specific image titled Making camouflage nets for the War Department (1942).

The size of her installation draws you to approach what might seem to be an apolitical form of expression.  Not until you read the description of the installation that you reach the significance of her project to engage in conversation with the history of forced labor.  Speaking with Candiani she makes references to the Maquiladoras along the Mexican U.S. border, and the prison industrial complex as another form of labor exploitation. Although, Maquiladoras are not associated as direct forced labor like the Japanese encampments, however the condition that directs mostly young women to work in Maquilas today can be said to be somewhat a version of forced labor.1

By reenacting this installation Candiani reminds us of the inherited abuse of workers built into a system that is ready at any moment to incarcerate and deprive the liberty of its own citizens given they are not of European descendants. This abuse is not a casual outcome, but a variable. The hysteria that brought about WWII enabled the US government to draft laws that singled out a nonwhite group, the Japanese Americans, to be treated as the enemy within. The same can be said today of immigrants. 

Without a doubt, Candiani links two geographies the US and Latin America with this installation. She expresses a universal reality of what has often stood in the way of justice in today’s globalized world.  She points to a world where the market stands to profit from exploited workers confined in inhumane conditions with no right to improve their circumstances unless they are fought for. Candiani reveals the connection between human labor and the social relations of today’s modern society. Her installation in essence is a critique not just the stealing of someone’s labor and the value it produces but the instrumental rational behind all justifications to minimize the dignity of humanity.

 


1 Maquiladoras are foreign-owned, controlled or subcontracted manufacturing plants that process or assemble imported components for export. This concept of manufacturing goods in the global south, in this case the border between Mexico and US reveals the abuse by the Global North that takes advantage of weak labor and environmental laws with trade agreements unable to guarantee a dignified wage.