Curator’s Lab: Site as Symbol

Event Date: April 9, 2011 6-9 PMJune 4, 2011
March 9, 2011The Fellows of Contemporary Art
Curator’s Lab Exhibition
presents Site as Symbol

Curated by Survey West Collaborative

At the FOCA Gallery April 9 - June 4, 2011
Opening reception:  Saturday April 9, 6:00 - 9:00

Los Angeles is represented to the world in carefully constructed ways, but those who have spent significant time here have a unique relationship to its complexity.  An architect friend once described LA as a “city of dreamers.”  Simultaneously, its pockets of injustice are undeniable.  Perhaps these two poles fuel each other. Regardless, L.A.’s inhabitants tend to make meaning of this city.  This exhibition brings together the work of seven artists working in and around Los Angeles.  Each artist utilizes local sites as symbols for force and progress, explored as destructive and imaginative in realms political and magical-- as dichotomous as the city itself.

Melissa Thorne brings utilitarian architecture into conversation with modernist design through her site-specific floor-to-ceiling wall painting.  In an ongoing chain of signifiers, Thorne’s geometric pattern-like composition cites the angular shapes found in unique, non-repeating reliefs on concrete retaining walls in Los Angeles, themselves referring directly to the less-stable river rock walls they’ve replaced. Covering half of the gallery’s walls, her investment in aesthetics as facade and byproduct of function becomes decorative, like wallpaper, and the viewer is encouraged to think of both vernacular and modernist design as equally creative acts.

With photographs and video hanging atop Thorne’s wall painting, Jed Lind and Pat O’Neill use landscape as a metaphor for latent energy, and are invested in the tools needed to harness it.  Lind’s photographs are aerial views of oil seeps, places in and around the city where the liquid has naturally made its way to the surface.   In some cases, we see the oily pool only through the positive shapes of dodging tools floating in dark, negative space.  Here, a darkroom tool used for manipulating light and image becomes a lens for looking at a powerful substance that manipulates history and society. Continuing a call and response conversation, O'Neill’s video meditatively weaves time-lapsed footage of his Pasadena studio site with that shot by late artist and filmmaker Richard Matthews of his own midwestern studio view in the 70s. A representation of a child and iconic tools twitch and flutter across the screen in repetitive, ritual-like activity. Set in the foreground, O’Neill’s sculpture is made of two acacia trunks cut to build his studio.  A drawing inspired by the patterned lining of business envelopes, designed to conceal contents, is sandwiched between the two trunks. Harnessing the intensity of clearing space for life’s work and the mystery of a decorative veil, O’Neill’s’ sculpture asserts itself as a promising ceremonial object.

Through collage aesthetics, Bari Ziperstein and Olga Koumoundouros create connections between site, economics and class.   Ziperstein’s figurative sculpture, appropriated from a 1980’s wrought iron window bar advertisement directed at Angelinos, is concerned with the aesthetics of domestic security.  By depicting a life-size, suspicious female homeowner decorated by her own protective window bars, an unnerving parallel between excess and fear is established.  Koumoundouros also explores relations between the figure and the environment, collapsing the industrial with the domestic. Her human-scaled, metal and revolving automotive parts display presents papier-mâché food items, mechanical and cultural objects, and body parts-- hawking the wears of a daily struggle with implied kinetic energy.

Charles Long and Jill Newman are committed to the preservation and symbolic representation of site as celebrations of regeneration and wonder.  Last year, Long observed an odd occurrence at the blighted LA River: a man intent on fishing huge clumps of algae out of the water and onto the concrete banks. Over the next month, Long watched as these verdant green heaps transformed to golden skeins suggestive of human-scaled figures in relief.  Having collected and conserved them, he has created allegorical compositions of these figures directly upon the walls of the gallery. Newman uses the language of museumology by tacking her triangular painting to linen and framing it behind glass, to be read not only as a painting, but also as a flag and relic.  Once a pennant waving from Newman’s outdoor sculpture– originally inspired by the improvised structures of the former South Central Farm– the abstract painting uses a linguistic-like assignment of meaning to memorialize the spirit and ingenuity tied to a place that is now gone.

Building on FOCA’s investment in publications while utilizing the space’s unique office environment, the artists have submitted books informative to their practices that will be available for viewers to peruse during the exhibition. These books further highlight the distinct and comparable ways each artist addresses landscape, domestic space and economics by exploring specific ideas of place.  By transforming these subjects through context and material play, wonder and imagination are reclaimed, critique of our current position comes into play, and site becomes symbol.

Site-specific events corresponding with the exhibition:

An 'Evening of Projections' with legendary filmmaker and artist Pat O'Neill at his Pasadena Studio
Sunday May 1st, Limited to 50 spaces, RSVP only, Reservation details TBA
Time: 3:00 - 6:00pm, screening starts at 4pm

Plying the P.E. Trail: Bisecting L.A.’s Edge, a bicycle tour lead by reluctant urbanist and ecological ethicist Claude Willey along the Pacific Electric Inland Trail.
Sunday June 5, Limited to 20 spaces, RSVP only  (closing event), Reservation details TBA
Time:  12:00 - 3:00pm

Survey West Collaborative is an on-going project between artists Jill Newman & Bari Ziperstein.  Both educated in West Coast art and conceptualism at CalArts, they examine the intersections of progress, ingenuity and architecture through art production, curation and educational outreach.

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