This post, the final of 2015, is large and sprawling due to the nature of the covered show, a site-conditioned artwork by Robert Barry involving architecture, language, and, somehow, place. It was difficult not to consider the literal approach to this show given how off-beat it was in terms of current art paths in Los Angeles. That said, it was not so far afield actually (physically) being just a few miles south of current, contemporary art gallery developments constellated by MOCA LA. So, a question about time and place is governed by both structure and space, hence my interest in this show.
Roberto Barry's installation curated by Thomas Solomon at Rudolph Schindler's Bethlehem Baptist Church (1944), sits at the corner of 59th and Compton, just a stone's throw from Florence/Normandie, an intersection that most will remember as the place where Reginald Denny (a white construction truck driver who was beaten nearly to death by a group of black assailants) fell during the Los Angeles riots of 1992 themselves consequences of yet another law enforcement acquittal in the face of social injustice. That was nearly twenty-five years ago. Again, so much to consider here in terms of setting even as such aforesaid events become increasingly more commonplace currently and so the seemingly elusive white shiny letters applied on white walls inside a white church of brown floors all by a "white" man not only invites color perception in terms of phenomena and language but also issues regarding the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law in the way that they both define personal/social experience, which is to refer coincidentally to what I just said about perception. This is where art and law intersect so easily as the best art examples attempt to lift human experience from such literal meanings if only for a moment; this one did as I internalized the words on that day in that place. The more intent I was at reading the writing on the wall, the more lost I seemed to be in terms of my immediate spatial awareness. Lost in thought as they say. Perhaps this is what Kubrick meant by Eyes Wide Shut... That said, I never quite forgot where I was completely as sights and sounds of the outside world were present in interesting ways.
Having quickly started with the symbolic and its associate experience then, I return to the literal visuals of the installation in order to think more clearly about just what mostly abstract words have to do with a church in South Los Angeles at the end of 2015. The church was built by Schindler in the 1940s (his only structure of such kind and purpose). Thus, I share with you the images of my visit, the approach, the entrance, the wandering, the ascent, and the disappearance (a common theme as it pertains to life cycles, certainly on a natural level but this one seems predominantly social despite such alternate viewings or pressing allusions).
All the words, again, shiny white words on white walls, are listed, as follows, in no particular order save my own viewing sequence: (which may suggest my own personal meaning and intent):
Here, Accept, Different, Mysterious, Illusion, Appear, Intense, Only, Almost, Absurd, Anything, Glorious, Looking, Emotion, Confused, Unknown, Crucial, Personal, Once, Obvious, Endure, Gong, Remember, Search, Reveal, Elusive, Real, Now, Changing, Question, Passion, Somehow, Inevitable, Wonder, Difficult, Intimate, Complex, Incomplete, Purpose, Actual, Different, Unusual, Becoming, Strange, Unique, Curious, Caution, Essential, Secret Meaning, Without
In the beginning was the word... (and it was not difficult to think about its value given its priority in this show). A Shining moment... All work and no play... Writing on the walls. Reading the handwriting on the wall. Lyrical and literal. The physical "chat rooms" of Norman Klein's social imaginary...
The presence and absence of light is the name of the game, certainly for architecture and the word, a sign for knowledge, illumination to be sure. How architecture frames and receives light, how reflective white letters appear/disappear depending on angle and time of day, and how there is a minimum of electrical light (on or off) in the viewing context, points to an intriguing aspect of the work in relation to light. I would have liked to have seen the church space at night under the given interior light fixtures combined with the neighborhood atmosphere, such as street lights and liquor store marquees nearby (the latter the essence of any struggling community desirous of Sunday faiths).
The positioning of certain words seemed obvious, perhaps too obvious when and where absurd is placed above the cross, itself central to the church space. At other times, the relationships of word and surface seemed less overt though intentional such as when essential appeared on the upper level positioned next to a clerestory window opening, again, onto a view of a liquor store. One could have spent days considering placement of language in space and certainly in turn site to expanding neighborhood context both present and historical. Alas, it did not strike me until later to align my head with the viewing angle of each word, but I think I could have been, at the very least, fun.
So, the intersection(s) of word(s) and space(s), structure(s) and phenomena, complicated a viewing experience that involved wandering and circulating with no clear direction as questions regarding powers and words seemed to be the order of that day. And it was also not difficult to completely ignore the ebbing daylight of this time of year in conjunction with site context and holiday observances/rituals; power relations of all kinds! Granted, had I seen the show months before, it would likely not have been so heavily-laden as it was for me on that day. That said, the show, overall, did underscore an all too human tendency to attempt meaning where there may not be any, especially as one reflects here upon the absorption of the reflective work there. Again, searching for meaning through words where there is none is all too common. However, here nothing cohered. Indeed, the show was absurd, elusive, unusual, curious, and so on... In the end, concepts regarding run-on sentences seemed to hold the greatest potential (which is to say power) for multiple meanings as neighborhood, demographics, architecture, sunlight, electrical light (as well as its signs), commingled with applied fleeting words of artistic intent during this one Sunday this past December. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience as art and place were momentarily fluid, dare I say, in Tom Solomon's temporary, urban temple.
Finally, as a postscript (and most likely just anecdotal footnote), the word different appeared in two different places within the show. I like that which is to say, I liked that. So, whatever can made of the repetition of difference(s), it certainly seemed central thematically to an art installation that relied on as much in terms of art adhering to architecture dependent on time of day, therefore levels of light and dark, shades of meaning of all kinds, power lines, historical purpose, contemporary context, personal/social meaning, and on and on and on... Word up.