Art Notes From a Week in L.A.

I just recently returned from a week in Los Angeles, spending four of those days at the College Art Association Conference. With this being their 100th annual conference, and all the Pacific Standard Time events and exhibitions going on, it was a very exciting time to be in L.A.

The conference schedule was so jam packed full that one could only participate in a fraction of the offerings. I focused most of my time on professional development seminars and attending sessions that were presenting new and different ideas for me. I did hear some good art history talks, but with so much new media and concepts out there, I wanted to stretch my horizons a bit.

Here are some highlights:
Fundraising in a Box: Crowdsourcing Microgrants, presented by Fractured Atlas, the panel included representatives from Kickstarter and RocketHub. (There are other ones that weren’t represented here.) While I’ve been aware of Kickstarter for a couple of years it was very informative to learn details about how it works directly from people involved.

Aside from being another way to raise funds for a project, crowdfunding offers alternatives to current economic models. One could say it’s the part of the DIY economy, allowing people to take more control of raising their own funds, and making use of social media technologies. Instead of going through the usual hoops for grants from large corporate sources, creative projects can be realized by activating and motivating your personal network and beyond. Corporate and crowdfunding can also work together, large donors may be more likely to fund your project if they see you are seeking funds from a variety of sources.

Another advantage is that crowdfunding promotes a greater freedom for creative project development, as well as allowing for a broader support base—people participating because they are enthused about what you are doing, and want to be part of it.

Contemporary Collectives and Collaborations, brought together a panel representing five different art collectives to talk about how they operate and the type of projects they are involved with. Collaborations can be conducted in person as well as virtually, and indeed, a couple of the speakers were “present” via Skype.

The groups presenting were L.A. Art Girls, who have done performative projects together, and seek to provide inspiration, support and feedback to one another; Berlin Collective does not necessarily work on projects together but has created an international community that provides member support; The League of Imaginary Scientists (my favorite), gets scientists to work with artists and has been very inspiring on both sides of the table, one project mentioned was a dance that was choreographed to the patterns of a chemical reaction; @Platea is a global, online, public art collective that has taken on a virtual life of its own; and Finishing School, which is an interdisciplinary artist collective that explores contemporary social, political, and environmental issues.

Some of the issues discussed among the groups were how they dealt with authorship and collective identity, and that, for the most part, their projects are experience based, with few, if any, final objects aside from documentation.

Momentum: Women, Art and Technology, was a discussion by several panelists on women who embrace the use of technology as a primary mode of expression. One of the two that stood out the most for me was a presentation by Aileen June Wang about the work of Chinese artist, Cao-Fei. Cao’s recent project, RMB City, is a virtual reality interactive video game. As an online public platform for creativity, it provides a laboratory for experiments in art, design, architecture, literature, politics, economy, and culture. Launched in 2008, it continues to grow and change with participation from around the world.

The other one that impressed me was Digitized Archives by Lynn Hershman, which addressed the issue of how to archive performative art for the future and keep it relevant. Hershman worked with Stanford University, where her site-specific artwork, Dante Hotel (1974), is housed in 90 grey boxes containing the papers, photos, films, recordings, etc. from the original nine-month project. The goal of the Stanford project, called Life Squared, was to animate the existing archive, converting it into a digital format of hybrid genre, which included digitized archival documentation and “virtual” installations in a new work called Second Life. This virtual site encourages people to revisit and interact with the past, thus re-configuring the old work into a new form and new context, as well as expanding the audience and accessibility for this material.

Finally, on Friday I attended a session called Women, Surrealism, California, and Beyond, held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This panel coincided with the museum’s current exhibition, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. A number of speakers, including the curators of the exhibition, Ilene Susan Fort and Tere Arcq, discussed the history of women surrealist artists, both in terms of the work they produced, the social and political context of the period, their departure from Europe during and after the wars, as well as how little recognition they received at the time.

I was particularly inspired by Katherine Conley’s talk on Leonora Carrington’s Kitchen. Carrington was an English-born artist and writer with a remarkable story of her life in Europe, eventual escape to New York in the 1940s, and soon after that moving to Mexico, where she lived until her death last Spring at the age of 94.

Mexico was a very exciting place to be in the 1940s. European artists who fled the war found a creative community of expatriates and interacted with the Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. For Carrington, life in Mexico was not necessarily easy, but at least she was safe and could do her art. Her interest in surrealism, alchemy and magic was further inspired by Mexican folk art, which portrayed such things as hybrid creatures and animal spirit guides. The local folklore also included domestic rituals, occult practices, and the use of healing herbs, potions, crystals and gems. These all contributed to the imagery in her paintings.

During this time she developed an enduring friendship with fellow refugee painter, Remedios Varo, and the two often spent time in the kitchen. Carrington’s kitchen was a very special place, which she used as her study and studio, a space for living, thinking, talking, and working. It was also a place of magic and transformation, for the crafting of potions, brewing of herbal concoctions, as well as for cooking food, sharing meals and conversations. Carrington also used her kitchen for painting, a natural place to mix her egg tempera pigments, and many of her paintings involved food, cooking, and eating, such as

Grandmother Moorhead's Aromatic Kitchen

Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen (1975).

Still Life Reviving, 1963, by Remedios Varo

For Carrington it was also a place where objects were collected and displayed—things from nature, letters, postcards, sketches, and any other oddities that came along. These objects often found their way into her paintings. It made me think fondly of my own kitchen as that inner sanctum for refuge and contemplation, where so much of life takes place around the table.

After the presentations we had the opportunity to view the exhibition, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, which continues through May 6, 2012. The more than 170 pieces are arranged thematically, with much having to do with identity and inner personal dreams and experiences. The exhibition includes work dating from 1931 to 1968 which was created in a variety of media included painting, printmaking, collage, sculpture, and experimental forays into photography and film. It was a pleasure to see a number of Frida Kahlo paintings without crowds to jostle around. Other artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, Kay Sage, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo, along with lesser known or newly discovered practitioners, such as photographer, Frances Woodman, who was born in 1958. The exhibition was very worthwhile and I recommend seeing it if you are in the area.

Birthday, 1942, by Dorothea Tanning

About Satri Pencak

Independent Curator, art writer
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1 Response to Art Notes From a Week in L.A.

  1. historiene says:

    Amazing about Mexico. Maybe a new movie coming soon…. “Midnight in Mexico”.


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