L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
Because I don’t believe that big and bright equals beautiful, I am not a fan of West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center. A mammoth, reflective blue box that towers over the otherwise low-to-the-ground Melrose Avenue architecture, the PDC has more than its share of empty retail space. Inside, it often feels like a manicured ghost town. I voted for its simulated destruction last fall when artist Gustavo Artigas staged his Vote for Demolition project, which asked Angelinos to select the city’s least attractive building. Artigas virtually razed the winner, which turned out to be the Kodak Theater because, apparently, not everyone sees the world the way I do.
Despite my PDC resentment, I am fond of MoCA‘s mini Pacific Design Center, a quiet beige cube that stands in the shadow of its big blue neighbor. It seems like an almost-joke—a Mecca of materialism’s carefully sized nod to the arts. Usually, design-related exhibitions that run in this MoCA satellite, like Las Vegas Studio and Folly–The View from Nowhere, cater to the curious without undermining the over-fabricated sterility of the whole PDC complex. But this past month, the MoCA mini-me has suddenly become a theater for outlandish projects that turn “over-fabricated” into a race toward synthetic delirium.
On June 24, during the invitation-only event Soap at MoCA, General Hospital filmed an episode starring James Franco. Franco played a demented artist, MoCA played the site of his opening, and artist Kalup Linzy performed in drag. Wearing a wig with bangs and a red and black floral print dress, Linzy recited the lyrics to Mad World while Franco yelled, “Don’t kill me! I know where the baby is!”, and then fell from a balcony to his fictional death. Linzy, accustomed to the drama of soap, wasn’t phased.
In his own soap, All My Churun (2003), a distraught, big-haired, striped-skirted woman (most women in Linzy’s films aren’t actually women) talks about the memorial service she’s planning for a murdered love named “Jo-Jo.” “Girl, you need to stop,” says her sister over the phone. “She needs to stop,” says her brother over the phone. Her mother and grandmother, also talking over the phone, act as if a memorial service for a dead man is the most flamboyantly frivolous thing a person could have.
Video artist Ryan Trecartin uses phones as liberally as Linzy, though his rarely have cords and sometimes they’re just pinkies and thumbs extended in the “call me” gesture. Phones turn life into a series of affected soliloquies and now that Trecartin has commandeered MoCA for Any Ever, a show that opened two weeks after the museum performed for General Hospital, soliloquies have become lurid and omnipresent. “You won’t recognize the PDC once you enter,” Trecartin’s New York gallerist Elizabeth Dee told the LA Times.
The downstairs bookstore has become a dark gallery. Cluttered with brand new benches, space heaters and superfluous metal chains, it looks like a graveyard for un-bought patio furniture. Trecartin’s Trill-ogy Comp (2009)—note the “trill”—screens on the wall opposite the entrance. Comp consists of three videos, all of them loosely related. K-CorealInc.K (section a) follows a group of all-blond white collar workers called the “Koreas”; Sibling Topics (section a) follows four quadruplet sisters, all played by Trecartin. P.opular Sky (section ish) is a bit of everything. Upstairs, in a bedroom, office space, faux-stadium and family room–each with nick-free Ikea-style furniture–four videos from the R’Search Wait’S series play out. But following storylines is precarious. As Trecartin pointed out in a recent lecture, “Consequence can just pop out of nowhere and cause can have no effect.”
Everyone wears some form of garish make-up, women play men acting like women, or men play women posing as men dressed as women. The physical gets slippery. With rare exception, characters use winy, effeminate teenage voices and speak confrontationally. No one is melancholic, though plenty are restless. All wear brightly colored clothes that match their bronzed, painted faces and, since Trecartin is an obsessive editor, the brash, sashaying footage has no non-orchestrated lulls. Soliloquies–there’s never really dialogue, even when characters purport to address each other–use language in a way that feels almost-but-not-quite familiar:
“She hates diversity and women. She’d probably shoot me if she saw my very extreme breast reduction that I love.” “Put your breasts back on.” “I never had any.”
“How will I make drive to find you when I’m in automation?”
“Cut my hair shorter. I like that kind of person.”
“Put on your comfort pants and say things in nice voice because.”
“I can go on and on but I won’t. I can go on and on but I won’t. I can go on and on but I won’t.”
About thirty minutes in, Any Ever begins to feel like a dream that’s apolotical, political, apathetic, aggressive and increasingly fluorescent. It becomes exhausting and disorienting, enough so to make me want to hate it. And this means it’s perfect.