I got a nice big art “fix” this weekend up in Los Angeles. Living in Laguna Beach, all I have to do is head down the canyon a couple of blocks to lose myself in the art galleries, but not on this scale and diversity. Like the Annenberg’s, “Who Shot Rock and Roll” exhibition; the first major display that acknowledges photographers’ creative and collaborative role in revealing the history of rock music. Fun, but no creative whomp. (Part of the collection and courtesy of Ian Dickson/late20thcenturyboy.com, the photo below of the Ramones is probably what Layne, my youngest looked like on stage at The Whiskey A Go Go that time when he was fourteen.)
The Getty gave me what I was seeking—“Heaven and Hell and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages,” glass making in antiquity, paintings, woodcuts, massive tapestries, sculptures, and ceramics. And then some unexpected nostalgia: pen and ink drawings from the sixteenth century that took me back to Nkana and my fifteen year old self when I took lessons with Mrs. Bingham, the eighty-year old mother of one of my dad’s co-workers on Nkana mine. She’d been one of Queen Elizabeth II’s official artists, rendering Her Majesty’s intricate proclamations with their tiny gold leaf depictions of fox hunts, deer and country scenes along the borders. For a year, I walked the three miles up to Seventh Avenue on Saturday mornings to spend half the day fashioning the alphabet in Old English script and copying pen and ink birds from the English countryside, getting lost in the detail of the fine black lines of the birds’ tiny claws, wings, beaks, and eyes. The one depicted below is by Noah Strycker.
But it was at the Hammer Museum of Art and Culture that gave me the biggest whomp. Talk about unexpected. It was a spur of the moment decision to enter that room on the second floor after scanning the brochure, something about a twenty minute meditation on bodies absorbed in stillness. Hmm. Sitting on the floor in the cavernous room, I watched as seven, twenty-something men and women dressed in everyday clothes walked into the middle of the floor where an arrangement of three ladders on their sides, plaster casts of blue jeans placed upside down, and a potted plant on a tree stump had been strategically placed. Standing around the various props, they stared out into nothingness. I glanced around at the audience. Twenty minutes of this?
And then they started singing, “We are dead dolls” and moved slowly around the floor. Still singing, they stopped, most of them in odd uncomfortable positions, head through a ladder rung, neck resting on the crotch of the blue jean prop, another balancing in a chair-like yoga position, a woman squatting on the tree stump holding the potted plant. Weird and tense. This was followed by the first line of the song “One is the loneliest number,” more shifting around, back to “We are dead dolls,” voices becoming louder and cacophonous, stacked group hugs., then striding about, toppling ladders with loud crashes. I felt myself becoming more and more perturbed.
Then with voices unbearably loud, six of them gripped one of the ladders while a woman started up carrying the potted plant. At the top, she flung the pot to the ground where it exploded with a loud crash. Then complete silence. It was over. I felt like the pot. Undone, vulnerable, tears at the back of my throat. Rising to my feet, I clapped until my hands hurt.
On the way out, I read the rest of the performance description. “. . . performers act out different phases of physical and emotional transformation. Language serves as both image and object as voices interact with set pieces in this spiraling narrative.” Yes, indeed.