When we got to share Alex Israel’s As It LAys video series a few months ago, we were practically pooping our pants because it’s just such a great, fun art/performance project that is very high-art, very not high-art, something so accessible and fun and easy to consume by many. We had read in our research that something was going to be happening with the project at MOCA and, sure enough, this past Saturday they had an intimate audience of donors, friends of MOCA, and others to see a live performances of the popular online video art series.
We arrived at the event about twenty minutes before the 7:30PM live performance(s) were going to start, arriving to an empty space and us not really sure what was going on. To our surprise, they had already begun a surprise performance with famous surfer Laird Hamilton. We all huddled in a soundstage, crowding the basic set, where Alex just listed off questions, purposefully not engaging his subject as he blankfacedly listed off the most banal questions ever.
Following this brief surprise performance, the event resumed with showing the videos in a giant soundstage, a few videos we hadn’t seen popping up with Larry Flynt and Angelyne as subjects. People stood watching, some sitting on couches and others craning their heads around tall people to see clearly. The event was held at the historic Jim Henson company lot, the one with Kermit overlooking La Brea. The place has this unplaceable magic to it namely because it’s just so charming and old Hollywood, the buildings all little bungalows with stained glass windows and with titles in fonts full of so much character. And, of course, Henson’s characters popped up here and there, from Kermit denoting the little frog’s room to the statues of characters (or extras?) from the nineties show Dinosaurs.
The performances re-ramped up at 7:30PM, us running in a bit earlier to snag a great spot to stand and watch. We noticed there were four little cameras, from a Flip camera to little digital camcorders, that were recording the performances likely to be broadcast online in the coming weeks. We had no idea who to expect as we couldn’t figure out the first person Alex interviewed and we didn’t know if it would be a local celebrity or some hyper-huge celebrity. Alas, it was the latter: Molly Ringwald.
Alex gave Ringwald a really quick introduction, she came right out, was super pretty, and had a fantastic haircut and shoes and dress: she looked stellar. Without any pause, they dove right into the interview and Molly listed off answers as honestly as possible. What was most interesting about her is that she’s a celebrity that is iconic but not in our everyday lives, someone who is currently a very normal, any-other-LA lady who happens to also be an actress. She was likely the most normal of the three (spoiler: there was another surprise guest after Molly) but occasionally turned it on in a tongue-in-cheek manner, name dropping Paris and Ritz Carlton’s for a few answers. She actually reminded us a lot of when she made an appearance on Chow’s My Go-To Dish webseries a few years back: natural, normal, and totally LA, in the most endearing sense of the phrase “totally LA.”
After Molly, we expected the performance to be over and for us to all to exit to hang out and say hello to Alex. Alas, he stood up and almost immediately introduced another guest: Melanie Griffith. When he said that, there was a bit of an, “OOoOoOoooh!” moment, everyone nodding their heads to each other and super impressed she would be participating.
Melanie was an absolute hoot: she entered the stage through the scenery, asking if that was the correct way to enter, she towered above Israel in her huge (beautiful!) heels, and immediately said, “I want to make you guys laugh.” upon taking her seat. This got to how different As It LAys live is versus without an audience. Of course, the videos have a bit of self-awareness, many of the subjects knowing what they are in for. However, as a viewer you assume the production of those videos are very minimal, a small staff and Alex there for the interview: there is nearly no element of performance to an immediate audience. Live, there is a large dose of performance and an extreme self-awareness resulting in over and under-performing: Laird was very to the point, practically answering everything with a yes or no, a near anti-performance; Molly was bringing a normalness, something akin to a non-performance, trying to be herself as much as possible; and Melanie bordered caricature, her wanting to make the audience laugh and acknowledging their presence a few times, trying to engage reactions (as Alex wouldn’t give one).
Performance was a very interesting thing to think about while watching in addition to all of this in relationship to art. The event inspired conversations of, “Is that art? It was an interview.” to, “It’s such a deconstructed middle finger to celebrity culture, advancing what we (the audience) want from public figures (our entertainment).” It was very, very interesting.
As mentioned, the event gathered lots of different people. It was one of the most normal events we’ve actually been to, very similar to the opening of the James Franco show, artists, personalities, celebrities, and art entusiasts all congregated in the same space, an even playing field of sorts. The event had everyone from MOCA perma-celebrity Jeffrey Deitch to MOCA now-celebrity James Franco to actress Kristen Bell to As It LAys former subject Kato Kaelin to Made In L.A. artist Fiona Connor: it was a great collection of celebrity-celebrities and art-celebrities.
We also have to note that the drinks were fantastic. Rarely do we give a shout-out to booze but Tanteo were the people who supplied the drinks and they were fantastic. They had this jalepeño tequila that was so weirdly good and spicy and made for fantastic cocktails like the “Heated Detox.” They were made with Pressed Juicery juices which were fine but, really, it was all about the Tanteo. We heard that Alex was the one behind getting the drinks which means, duh, he has super great taste. He was also very nice when we met him as he was on his way out and even stopped for a posed photo that we took, realized it was too dark, and retook with flash. What a good sport!
Seeing As It LAys live was one of the best live art performances we’ve been to. The event was marked by a tiny dark cloud, though: famed hairdresser, tastemaker, and Angeleno Vidal Sassoon was one of the first persons shared in the series and the biggest supporters of the project and, sadly, passed away a few weeks ago. Alex gave an excellent closing speech for the evening to acknowledge and celebrate the artist (above) which was followed by a screening of Sassoon’s interview. We’re sure Sassoon would have loved the event and is certainly proud to have been a part of the series.