Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Sirens of Spring in Los Angeles

Good news: Volvo is back and awol is free to awol again (up to a point -- but I'll never give away its mileage). The last three nights have been dominated by -- no, not Bill Viola, not Peter Sellars, not even -- well Esa Pekka Salonen definitely had a hand in it -- two of the most beautiful hands I've ever seen to be precise -- Wagner and scarcely less important, Debussy. I'm talking about The Tristan Project, of course. The 'prelude before the prelude,' so to speak, was Debussy's Printemps -- which foreshadows Stravinsky's own Sacre du Printemps, but hardly needs to stand in its shadow. It's a work of dazzling sophistication and modernity, but isn't played nearly enough -- or as brilliantly as it was executed Thursday night (12 April) by the L.A. Phil under Salonen's beautiful hands (hard to believe he will put down the baton in a couple of seasons). And then the Prelude with its deceptively simple motives building like a chain reaction into something volcanic, oceanic, carrying us forward into that fateful voyage of Act I and the rest of the opera to come. It's almost overwhelming. You have to wonder if it needs any imagery beyond the drama of the opera itself. I realize that's not the point -- but it underscores the perfection Salonen, soloists and company had already achieved with the score. I'll get back to Viola in a moment, but let me backtrack a bit to post a few less sonorous notes.

I mentioned I had been down to the Cherry & Martin gallery on Venice a couple of weeks ago to look at the Amanda Ross-Ho show before it closed. I knew she had taken her MFA at USC, but thought she was based in Brooklyn. The only thing I knew about her work was from a review of a New York group show. But she is still very much here and at work in L.A. But I wonder as I write this if it really matters – that is where exactly she might be and, perhaps only slightly more importantly, where her eye and hand happen to alight. (And now I’m inadvertently quoting the title of her show – talk about automatic writing.) That is to say, it’s work that, for all its particularity, might happen any number of places. That haphazard spirit was very much felt at the small but beautifully installed show at Cherry & Martin. But the work on view was also, more importantly, about presence and absence, and the random, unforeseen or unpredictable implications of each.

The ‘Nothin’ of Amanda Ross-Ho’s “Nothing Fuckin Matters is of course everything. Her entire approach here has to do more or less explicitly with absence, negation, the shadow or shadow image of something that may or may not be there. What is merely implied, suggested, disclosed parenthetically in turn contributes to a fragile and contingent context all too easily undermined by one or more other elements, or indeed the entire support which may be ambiguously virtual or concrete. Her “gran-abertura” is a lacework wall “hanging” incised into sheetrock propped up against the gallery wall. The incisions reveal other elements (e.g., in this instance, a fishing lure). In other words, it’s less about the view than about the opening into a series of questions – about presence, identity, impression, viewpoint, the continuous interactive network of all these things. It’s a work that’s continuously self-interrogating. It’s an interrogation that can easily be reversed – as she does here with her “White Goddess” pieces on canvas – moving from the perforation and lattice-work of the incised hanging or shawl (what looks like a crocheted or openwork knit scarf) or macramé) to the painted hanging on a perforated canvas surface.

In a work called “Peacock,” an inkjet print mounted on a piece of sheetrock propped against the wall, what appears to be a shadow (of a peacock chair) frames what appears to be the outline of a human figure which in turn is imprinted with a grid that may itself be a shadow or a reflection (a tiled floor? – on which the figure gazes? or merely falls? – or is it simply a graph, a mapping? a cipher?). Not quite hiding just behind the sheetrock is a pet’s water dish/cooler with its feeder jug. In other words, you still won’t know where you’re going by the time you’re gone; but your cat might be able to figure it out (and – p.s. – keep her hydrated).

I realized only after the fact that three works installed as an ensemble at the Cherry & Martin space were autonomous (but apparently this is always a possibility in Ross-Ho’s work). Two were faux-collage inkjet prints – what looked like two adjoining panels of a self-folding cardboard box tacked up on a section of pegboard (“Double Tragedy”) – the ‘cipher’ element emphasized here both by the configuration of the pieces on the sheetrock and the incisions in the sheetrock revealing a panel of pegboard on the other side – with semaphore-like printing: a pair of curved directional arrows, each pointing the same direction, reversed ‘C3s,’ imprinted blank squares ostensibly for identifying the contents. Immediately below this was another fragment on ‘pegboard’ – which appeared to be a fragment ripped from newspaper advertising. The title, “The Artistforme,” spells it out literally: obviously from some piece of advertising for Prince (or "the artist formerly known as ... ") – with head, hands and everything else sheared away, leaving only the “artist form”, Prince’s characteristic Regency dandy gear like a shell or a doll’s costume. Directly across from the “Artistforme” was a photograph of a hanging address number panel for successive (odd) street addresses clustered at the same site – 2001 through 2011 – a literal conflation of space and time Ross-Ho titled “Tapestry.” Brilliant. With a pegboard suggesting its own virtual space, as well as the suggestion of time measured out in ‘space’, she moves to set aside the notion of ‘measure’ altogether for ‘form’ itself. What fills the form? What is lost altogether to the viewer’s gaze? Or merely forgotten or overlooked? There’s also the suggestion of the archaeological or forensic (as if a piece called “Negative Earth” wasn’t enough to indict a species so intent upon not merely its own, but an entire planet’s extinction) – e.g., the ”Mantle” – a sheetrock ‘chimneypiece’ with a snapshot tucked away in a crevice on the floor.

She knows how to steal from the best, I thought – e.g., Baldessari, Rauschenberg. The photographic inkjet prints have an effect not unlike Rauschenberg’s transfer drawings. Considered as installation pieces (which I think they really should be), the sheetrock mounted pieces have the presence of Rauschenberg-ian combines; but dare to go them one better by hinting at a surround (as opposed to a support) of domesticity (e.g., the lure, the sport shoes, etc.) The show as a whole projects a domestic, yet elegiac, nihilism. But you would hardly sum it up that way. There’s far too much going on here. The incisions, the crevices, the doubling of motives hint at perceptual fields momentarily forgotten or pushed aside and those we have yet to apprehend or fully understand.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, I intended to proceed straight from Cherry & Martin to L.A. Louver for Tony Berlant's show. (I can guess what the reader might be thinking. We really know each other now, don't we? Well -- that's the great (or not so great?) thing about L.A.: it's a place for second -- and third & fourth & fifth, etc. -- chances; a place for continuous reinvention. Yeah -- if they're not too much of a bore, I'll give almost anyone a second chance.) So what's the deal with the traffic on North Venice? Less than half a mile from the Cherry & Martin space, the traffic slowed to what I call 10-mg Valium traffic. I ran out of my prescription ages ago and there was no way I was going to endure it for Tony's latest tintypes. I turned around and headed back into Culver City. More later -- but not on Berlant.

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