Curating a retrospective of performance art must be a fairly daunting task. For one, how do you capture and express the spirit of something that is distinctly ephemeral and often strongly tethered to the zeitgeist of a specific period? Well, LACE tackled the issue in a couple ways for Los Angeles Goes Live, Performance Art in Southern California 1970-1983.
LACE is one of a few remaining independent galleries in LA, and sits smack-dab in the middle of Hollywood Blvd., right at the heart of that wonderful tourist trap between Vine and La Brea. It’s a relatively small space compared to the more well-known museums in the city, but it’s curators have done a good job maximizing it’s potential with even the foyer being utilized to showcase work. The current exhibit consists of several diverse elements including sets, costumes, scripts, and props from varying performances with each piece complimented by a number you can call to hear the artist’s explanation of their work (these range from succinct to sprawling, with at least one monologue thrown in for good measure.) But the cherry on top for the whole event is a series of performances dedicated to revisiting, reinventing, and re-staging works from the the 70’s and early 80’s.
On Thursday night I had the opportunity to see LA artist Ulysses Jenkins’ Black Gold Fever, which was originally performed in 1980 in the same space under the title Columbus Day: A Doggerel. Having not even been conceived in the early 80s, I missed Columbus Day, but Black Gold Fever‘s message was as poignant today as it must have been more than two decades ago. The performance consisted of four primary mediums: music, dance, projection, and a dynamic mandala-like sculpture comprised of sand, stone, ceramics, oil, and gold leaf. All these pieces worked together to tell a story of how damaging our addiction to oil can be, both environmentally and socially. The music, played by Jenkins (who also contributed spoken word), Michael Delgado, Najete Agindotan, David Strother, Lena Hovanes, and Babalade Olamina, was accompanied by Anna B. Scott’s dancing and juxtaposed projections of oil rig fires, slave ships, Christopher Columbus, and some sad looking pelicans. All the while, Matthew Thomas serenely worked to move about the various elements of his mandala, scooping and pouring colored sand, sweeping back any loose grains, and shaking gold leaf into a bowl of oil, giving the performance the air of a ritual.
For someone who is relatively new to performance art, Black Gold Fever was instantly accessible with none of the pretensions one might ascribe to the genre. It was forthright and engaging — the music was excellent, the dancing was passionate, and the message was one we are all familiar with in some form. I highly suggest a visit to LACE to catch the next part of the series, Debating Through The Arts: A Performance Art Event on October 29th, and make sure to come early or stay after to check out the gallery and experience a snap-shot of LA’s rich performance art history.