Bad and Good Times in LA

A year of protest and performance in Los Angeles

One of my favourite places in Los Angeles, the non-profit gallery and exhibitions space 356 Mission Road, came under attack by a coalition of artist-activist groups that called for a boycott and demanded the staff hand over their keys to the building. In the wake of last November’s election, the criticism of 356 Mission was badly timed: the venue offers impeccable programming, sorely needed as consolation and for gathering strength. But the last shred of a communal vibe in LA, the hospitality provided by the people at 356 Mission with great care, was damaged by the divisive tactics of their misguided crusade. In the words of French writer Guillaume Dustan, who I’ve been reading all year, it seems that the protestors are dedicated to ‘perpetuating an anti-pragmatic world, feudal in practice, while courting people’s worst anti-intellectual and anti-individualistic temptations.’ Laura Owens, who co-founded 356 Mission Road – ended a recent statement defending the space with a link listing all of the gallery’s contributors and participants during the last five years.  Reading it, I recalled many of the vibrant moments fostered there. It was a reminder of what we cannot afford to lose, and what is at stake.

Read Jonathan Griffin on the Boyle Heights gentrification debate in his Dispatches from LA here.


Krysten Cunningham, Human Loom, 2017, interactive activity, spandex, Mount Wilson Observatory. Courtesy: KNOWLEDGES festival, 2017; photograph: Eden Batki

Krysten Cunningham, Human Loom, 2017, interactive activity, spandex, Mount Wilson Observatory. Courtesy: KNOWLEDGES festival, 2017; photograph: Eden Batki

Meanwhile at the Mount Wilson Observatory, only an hour outside of LA, a new chapter to in the city’s rich, esoteric tradition of haunted places and alternative cosmologies unfolded with Christina Ondrus’s KNOWLEDGES festival, a mix of site-specific installations by artists like Alice Könitz, Scott Benzel, Erik Frydenborg and Margaret Wertheim and performances by several well-loved musicians, including New Age music pioneer Constance Demby. The band White Magic played a spellbinding set inside 154 cm telescope, which allowed concert-goers to take turns gazing at Jupiter and its many moons in the dark while listening to lead singer Mira Billote’s dreamy incantations. For more sonic dreamscapes, I am also happy to report that Jimi Hey has finally found the perfect venue to share his far-reaching taste in emotive dance music in Zebulon, (sometimes in tandem with DJ Isabella or Josh da Costa). Hey’s night is aptly named ‘Love Saves LA’.


Erlea Maneros Zabala, installation view, Redling Fine Art, LA, 2017. Courtesy: Redling Fine Arts, LA

Erlea Maneros Zabala, installation view, Redling Fine Art, LA, 2017. Courtesy: Redling Fine Arts, LA

I was intrigued by Erlea Maneros Zabala’s untitled exhibition at Redling Fine Arts this autumn. A few sculptures, consisting mostly of empty frames were placed around a flat screen TV, which looped a video showing the artist performing a catalogue of precise gestures in her Joshua Tree studio – cutting, filing and sanding wood – while a radio subjected her to mind-numbing right-wing rhetoric. Divested of images, the perfectly-constructed frames felt like a much-needed pause from the noise, and an elegant response to the present moment, when meaning often seems emptied out. Similarly, Zabala’s rubber sculptures stood ominously as a fragile memorial to how discourse itself has disintegrated.


William E. Jones, Fall into Ruin, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy: David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

William E. Jones, Fall into Ruin, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy: David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

I found William E. Jones’s elegiac meditation on the demise of the Greek gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas at David Kordansky last summer very moving. The artist’s photographs and accompanying film, Fall Into Ruins (2017), don’t simply document Iolas’s decadent marriage of antiquity, modernism and homosexuality but describe how a chance encounter in 1982 that opened a world of possibilities for Jones, then a young artist from Ohio, that took him more than 30 years to fully understand.

Read Travis Diehl's review of William E. Jones’s show at David Kordansky here.

The unexpected return of Los Super Elegantes (Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano López Crozet) at Gavlak as part of ‘Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA’ was a timely reminder of a more innocent time, when the mash-up of Spanish and Echo Park culture was gamely pursued for pure pleasure. LSE make everything seems easy, and the way they seamlessly oscillate between gracious nonchalance and lurid choreography is invigorating.


Philip Littell and Paul Outlaw in Sorry, Atlantis: Eden’s Achin’ Organ Seeks Revenge, 2017. Courtesy: Machine Project, LA; photograph: Ian Byers-Gamber

Philip Littell and Paul Outlaw in Asher Hartman’s Sorry, Atlantis: Eden’s Achin’ Organ Seeks Revenge, 2017. Courtesy: Machine Project, LA; photograph: Ian Byers-Gamber

Asher Hartman’s new play, Sorry, Atlantis: Eden’s Achin’ Organ Seeks Revenge, which premiered at Machine Project in September, channelled and presaged the deluge of sexual misconduct accusations that have emerged in the last several months. It was a claustrophobic affair, with a tilted wood jetty of a stage covering most of the gallery, leaving room for just two rows of spectators. The play explored ‘American masculinity’ with compassion, but also conjured my father, my childhood and Hollywood’s role in exporting these myths as far as Morocco, where I’m from. During the performance, I was reminded of posters of Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and Bogart with his dangling cigarette that were glued onto wood and hung on our walls.  Still, through the laughter and Whack-A-Mole madness, there was an incredible sadness to the play as Hartman evoked the shadow of AIDS, and our miserable fallen men.


Matt Fishbeck of Holy Shit, 2017

I listened to Holy Shit’s Solid Rain – released by Semiotext(e), where I serve as co-editor – a lot this year. When the test pressing arrived, I was riveted by all the subtleties, newly revealed by the mastering, that had been lost in the compression of the MP3. New gems were revealed like ‘Take Me by Surprise’ and ‘Low Wattage Lonesome’. And Superpitcher’s song ‘Hey Little Raver’ – a deceptively simple, child-like tribute to dance culture that recalls Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s Ex Fan des sixties (1978) – accompanied me all year long. 

Read Josie Thaddeus-Johns’s review of Holy Shit's Solid Rain here.

Mark Fisher. Courtesy: Repeater Books

Mark Fisher. Courtesy: Repeater Books

Mark Fisher. Courtesy: Repeater Books

If Superpitcher’s song enveloped the listener in a gauzy and melancholic recollection of a distant past, Burial’s gritty and savage take on Goldie’s ’90s classic ‘Inner City Life’ (1995), Pre-Dawn / Indoors EP, evoked Luc Ferrari’s electro-acoustic field recordings from the 1970s. Burial condensed and edited the soundscape of a rainy night in South London and the loneliness that precedes and follows it through the brutal, syncopated sound of drum and bass that simultaneously alienates and energizes the listener. Diane Charlemagne’s beautiful vocals from the original version are ghosted, distorted and buried deep in the mix. It has all the signature touches of Burial that Mark Fisher (who sadly died this year) identified in his book Ghost of My Life (2014): the crackles, sirens and sounds of breaking glass. There’s even a sample from Dino Crisis, a late ’90s PlayStation game. Fisher writes: ‘[S]natches of plaintive vocals … like fragments of abandoned love letters … Burial’s sound is a work of mourning rather than melancholia, because he still longs for the lost object, still refuses to abandon the hope that it will return.’ The track ends with a blast of pure melodic bliss that manages to distil, in a single minute, all the contradictions of a night out: a quick terrifying moment when the drugs kick in. ‘It’s a bad time, it’s a good time’, one sample repeats.

Read Dan Fox’s tribute to Mark Fisher (1968–2017) here.

Main image: Scott Benzel, Mathesis and Mathematikoi, 2017, movement/performance/sound piece for string quartet, anvil, dancers, and telescope operator, 100-inch Hooker Telescope Dome, Mount Wilson Observatory. Courtesy: KNOWLEDGES festival, 2017; photograph: Eden Batki

Hedi El Kholti is a co-editor of publisher Semiotext(e), and the founder of Animal Shelter, an occasional journal of art, sex and literature.

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018