Out and About

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TWO EVENTS this week as we ease into the end of the year:

On Thursday evening,  I’ll be heading over to the Pasadena Central Library to join our lively and opinionated crew for a far-ranging conversation. We’ll be discussing and reading from the anthology:  L.A. Baseball: From the Pacific Coast League to the Major Leagues. We get started at 6:30pm in the beautiful Donald R. Wright Auditorium. There will be a reception afterward and we’ll be  signing books.

On Sunday afternoon, Angel City Press will be hosting a holiday party and signing, featuring books honoring Los Angeles’s rich history and culture.

Authors include:

  • Bill Bradley, Los Angeles Union Station: Tracks to the FutureAfterImageCover

  • Stephen Gee, Los Angeles City Hall: An American Icon, Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Central Library: A History of its Art and Architecture

  • Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber, From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles

  • Jim Harris, Santa Monica Pier

  • Robert Landau, Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboard of the Sunset Strip,  Hollywood Poolside, Tales from The Strip: A Century in the Fast Lane

 

And, I  will be there as well signing and discussing After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame.

Join us from 2 to 4pm at Traxx Restaurant in Union Station (we’ll be gathering inside, adjacent to the concourse) near the Alameda entrance to the terminal).

 

 

 

The Pivot

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make room for chance

PROFESSIONALLY, I’VE been traipsing after artists for quite some time. Not just shadowing them, but listening,  watching and chronicling.

 

Over time, I’ve found myself most drawn to those who seem to make unexpected leaps; pivots that might look like unimaginable next-stops in the artist’s evolution.

It’s a part of the creative process that artists don’t always talk about aloud — the “it’s just the way I work”-reflex of seeking or problem solving.

Sometimes a resolution can be happened upon quickly. Sometimes a fix might leave the seeker at some vague a fork in the road. Other times, that path chosen might lead to what might appear to be a brick wall or disaster — but really it’s a beginning. And they must keep going.

Those who master this art of feeling comfortable in uncertainty and begin trust the process of traveling through the dark can unlock places inside themselves that they never knew existed. Breakthroughs often mean just that — a shattering of the old on the way to the new — and it’s trusting that the road to those new territories will come, but they may come with bumps and ruts and consternating switchbacks.

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trust the dark and your dopeness

A month or so ago the editor of LMU Magazine approached with a question about “success”

What are we supposed to do in life and how do we figure out how to do it? 

We had a great talk which had me circling back to some artists that  I have kept in close touch with over the years, and about how much of their “success” has been shaped by chance — more specifically the serendipitous moments that have been the gift of those encounters.

As well, I revisited an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with a  writer freind about how much of our ability to live a fully open creative life is about learning that when adversity  happens — and it always does — that learning to how to mindfully pivot is essential  How to land and roll is the key not just to the next creative pursit  but survival.

From my piece:

We want to map a plan — a life — that’s what both our conscience and the culture tells us; a life/plan that nudges us toward “success” and ultimately a precisely articulated and fully realized you. The trouble with this premise is that what we already know too often obstructs what we might come to know — if we’re open to it. That’s the juncture where chance lies — and where serendipity — and often the greatest possibility can step in.

We think we can outline a foolproof strategy, one that keeps us on track, moving forward, but things break, sever, snap and shatter all of the time. Plans fizzle, promises are broken, things fall apart. Both life and the language we use to describe our derailments and defeats tell us that.

Planning, however, doesn’t stave off the inevitable detours that present themselves: There are moments when patterns are broken for us, and moments when we choose to break them. What happens when we walk into that void, that open question, is the first step toward the unknown and where faith and chance can take us.

As a journalist who writes about people who make elegant, jaw-dropping leaps — creatives who ultimately conceive beyond-category art, music and food, or design vibrant community landscapes or networks — I see many who seem to share a key trait: the ability to pivot, to “see in the dark.” The darkness in this case is uncertainty: blind turns and difficult passages that we all must navigate at some point to find our way to the next phase, chapter, summit. Why, I wondered, are some better at the pivot than others? That facility begins with feeling comfortable in the space of the unknown.

What I’ve been learning as I dig deeper into the project is that all this shadowing, listening, chronicling is finally adding up to learning.

To be continued…

You can read the rest of the essay  here. 

The Spirits of the City

“Figueroa Spectres, 1935-1997,” a photo montage by Philip J. Ethington. via USC Dornsife

A FEW weeks ago I spoke with Philip Ethington, a professor of history and political science at USC Dornsife, about his 15-years-in-the making project, Ghost Metropolis. Due out next year, the multimedia “book” explores layers of Los Angeles — its history, its built environment, its contested territories, its major arteries and industries — in hopes of examining and cataloging the distinguishing details of Los Angeles, past and present.

“I see myself making ghosts visible,” he explained.

Those pieces of from the past that so many Angelenoes consider to be razed or lost, haven’t been entirely erased, they are often, Ethington points out, just hiding in plain sight.

The project — which assembles a series of essays, interactive maps, photographs (his own set alongside archival images) and video — will tell a 4D story about the region across epochs.

From the piece:

“I just want to tell a great story about a great city. Great in a massive sense, but also in a creative sense. Because it’s not all about the bad guys and the injustices and the oppressions. I also want achieve accountability. That’s a real big goal.”

To read the piece and see some of time images and maps, click over to USC Dornsife’s site here.

Fifty Years Ago Today …

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THERE IS an incredible document up at the National Archives Tumblr that really hit home. I keep looking at it over and over. It’s a scan of the full program from the March on Washington. Within you’ll find a full listing of speakers, a map of the march and of course “The List of Demands.”

Fifty years gone, literally a “piece” of history, the thing that immediately struck me about the document’s no-frills, simplicity — it’s straight-forwardness — is that it underscores just how starkly different we are today about marking events of this magnitude — often with excessive flourishes.

There is beauty and dignity in the lack of ostentatiousness that cuts through to the heart to the heart of matter. Nothing crowds the list of names and their purpose. Nothing interferes with or eclipses the purpose of the day.

I would love to hold it in my hands.

You can see the rest here.

From the March: Mahalia Jackson


And of course, Dr. King:

“At the tone, the time will be . . .”

PACIFIC STANDARD TIME. Exactly.

EAR TO the ground, if it were a train, you would have felt it coming months ago. Pacific Standard Time celebrates the birth of the Los Angeles Arts scene — from 1945 to 1980. This extensive, much anticipated collaborative multidisciplinary (whew!) look at Los Angeles and the arts, jumps off this weekend with several opening-weekend events stretching across Southern California

Among the museum/gallery shows opening is “Under the Big Black Sun” at the Geffen Contemporary (still known among die-hard, long-timer Angelenos simply as “The Temporary”), which features work by more than 100 artists, including Ed Ruscha.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 will constitute the most comprehensive survey exhibition to date to examine the exceptional fertility and diversity of art practice in California during the mid- to late 1970s; a period bracketed by Richard Nixon’s ignominious resignation and retreat to Southern California in 1974, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and the landslide election of California Governor Ronald Reagan and his ascent to the American Presidency in 1981. Organized by MOCA Chief Curator Paul Schimmel, Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 will feature works by approximately 125 artists working in a wide array of mediums and styles. The exhibition seeks to demonstrate how collective loss of faith in government and other institutionalized forms of authority yielded a pluralistic spirit of freedom and experimentation that reached its artistic apex in California, already a fertile ground for creativity and non-conformity.

Several of the museums and galleries that are participating in the collaborative show are offering free museum admission today, Sunday.

I’m really looking forward to several months of visual art, music, discussions that will not just braid the city together in a different sort of way but also help to flesh out its depth and contours.

For more info click here for a full calendar of events.

And here is a pretty extensive and well-reported account from KPCC (89.3 FM) about the show’s scope and intentions:

(image Standard Station (Red), by Ed Ruscha via UBS Art Collection)

Traveling back to “Me”

ONE OF my Tumblr crew posted an image from a recent ad campaign.

The photo didn’t have a caption, you had to travel to the source site to see what it was actually selling. And there, I found a series. Here are a couple more:


What’s most striking about this campaign, shot by photographer, Tom Hussey, is that it conveys in such simplicity the distance between who we were and what we become as well as the sense of who we hope/hoped to be. It’s such an complex telescoping of time and emotion.

These moments become even more striking once you realize that the images are selling Alzheimer’s medication. From the site:

Commercial advertising photographer Tom Hussey photographed an award winning campaign for Novartis’ Exelon Patch, a prescription medicine for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia. The highly conceptual photographs depicted an older person looking at the reflection of their younger self in a mirror.

These “reflections,” in their quiet simplicity, speak worlds about the path we travel, the dreams and the destinations, and what it might mean to be robbed of those bits and pieces that made us who we are.

The rest, here:

Tick-Tock: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”

LAST NIGHT, very late, a friend and I ventured to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on a whim, to see what essentially was a 24-hour film montage as art piece — “The Clock,” in which time is, literally, the essence. Artist and composer Christian Marclay edited together hours and hours of film — foreign, domestic, blockbuster, art house — moments that reference time and builds a narrative constructed by bits and pieces of incidental dialogue that, more often than not, reference a specific time or anticipates what might happen when that “time” arrives.

The piece functions as a visual clock — where each hour, minute and second is accounted for. In other words, we, the audience sitting here in Pacific Daylight Time, is synced with the film’s internal clock — to the second. And so, when, say, an off-the-round number time was referenced by one of the actors, audience members checked their cellphones (and some old-schoolers like me, my watch). We were right on the nose. What a feat in L.A. to have to “go off” right on time. I was struck by the en-masse slumber party feel in the Leo S. Bing Theater on the museum’s grounds — excited but reverent. It reminded me of the old movie marathons the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) used to throw annually more than three decades ago.

Last night, there were people who clearly were just filing in for a moment to get a sense of the concept and move on as if it were an installation under plexiglass, still others who wanted to have more complete sense of what the piece’s trajectory — and still others who were in it for the duration — with their blankets and had snuck-in snacks. We stayed about three hours and shoved off into the rain. But long enough to watch the big clocks edge slowly to midnight — and see the beautiful watch and clock faces, the filagree hands, the gorgeous clock towers — registering time, counting down our days. That run up to midnight was greeted with elated applause.

The feeling you are left with is how much time it is we think about time — how it functions in our lives as both an abstract and a tangible dividing line between present and future, success and failure, life and death, chance and destiny.

Here is a little backstory about the project and Marclay here from the BBC.

"one more/ weekend/of lights and evening faces/fast food/living nostalgia"

THAT’S BOWIE ABOVE, but this whole thing started not with him or this riff, but with an old friend trolling for information on Facebook last week. Touchstones : music, fashion, memories — that would locate him back in 1977 for a young adult novel he is writing. And so we all have been digging deep, back into “the breezeways of our youth,” I teased. This, coincidentally, coincided with the death of J.D. Salinger. I read The Catcher in the Rye that year for the first serious time. I have a tendency as a reader to remember not just the book, but where I was when I was reading it, so this news then placed me in one of Culver City Jr. High School’s sunlight-flooded classrooms, sunk into a sofa sulking at the rear, with that maroon paperback in my hands. 1977. Culver City. Integrating. We were all pushing up against one another. It wasn’t angry, though sometimes it had an edge — racially speaking. I think most of us were simply curious. Fights happened over space, lunch tables, what music could or should be playing at nutrition or lunch — those things are touchstones themselves.

WE LIVED so close to the water that that was a distraction and device itself. Surf culture for us was so different than in the “Gidget” movies or Beach Boys songs. The beaches were dirtier by then and felt just as urban as that grove of new skyscrapers that were springing up downtown but those surf tribes made their way down to the water daily and brought with them young men mostly of various ethnicities and background: an image that won’t go away: Erik Lopez in a baja, his brown, wavy hair down nearly, but not quite, to his hips, “riding” the aisle on the #5 bus as if conquering a wave.

The Asian kids were the Earth, Wind and Fire fans — more vocal and loyal than us black kids and after a certain point, you had to just let them have them.

It was difficult to be possessive about music; it was free-floating. But you had to be sure not to be too “out there” with your preferences that served to separate. Slippery slope. By then, I was listening up-and-down the dial — interant, aural thrill seeker. I wanted to *know.* I brought Stevie Wonder with me from another time, place, neighborhood. I carried him everywhere. He never went away.

But I was curious about all of these new sounds — even some of the noise. Stations whose call-letters don’t exist anymore — KPOL, KBCA, KDAY, KGFJ, KMET — still clutter my consciousness, my memories of growing up in Southern California before it became so completely plastic and difficult to not just navigate but permeate.

Then you could slide from one style, mood, declaration from another. Not that you could own it, but you could sample it, could feel it, take a little with you.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, in that moment was still fetching. A goal for some, a impetus to flee for others. Growing up between those two moments — the rustic wildness diminishing, the temples to what those thought it should be climbing up from the flatness, made life feel otherworldly at times, like you were part of some strange slip-stream.

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Surprisingly, the film that articulated that for me more than others was “The Lords of Dogtown.” The opening scene when the boys (see top photo) are out before dawn surfing in that dirty muck of the Pacific Ocean I knew well at that time. Surfing among those hovering ruins of the the pier, but not minding the ruins, in fact, remaking them as something else. All of this too, this week, since this is way-back machine, 1970s week to be thinking about the Eagles of all bands. But this report on NPR got me thinking about again, the long arms of SoCal. A DJ in Port au Prince, Haiti, apparently had been playing the Eagles’ bombshell hit “Hotel California” at the moment the quake struck. He had the presence of mind to hit the “replay” button and so that eerie entreaty: “Welcome to the Hotel California” played over and over and over as the frail city fell. Again, it came in a flash — the air, the tension, the shifts of the terrain — impermanence. It came in waves.

Jerkin’: Revenge of the Real-World Nerd

THIS SHOULD HAVE gone up sooner, but I’ve been buried in papers and distracted by my wanderings. New York Times reporter, Guy Trebay’s take on L.A.’s new up-from-the-pavement craze made the cover of the NYT Sunday Styles Section a couple weeks ago. Jerkin’, you’re wondering, well:

Julian Goins, [above] the 15-year-old leader of the Ranger$, a five-member jerking crew, hops onto the tips of his sneakers — the Tippy Toe — and then swivels his body ground-ward, legs crossed at the ankle. He pops up like a jack-in-the-box, spins and bounces, gliding backward in the Reject, a move that resembles nothing so much as the Running Man, an ’80s dance-floor step but in reverse.

The other kids in the schoolyard pay scant attention to the star in their midst. Until his Ranger$ schedule exploded and his mother decided to home-school him, Julian was just another student.

Goofy, gentle, nimbly amateurish, jerking was little known outside certain precincts of this sprawling city until a year ago. But in the last nine months or so, jerking began an unexpected run as an Internet phenomenon.

With Alexander Hamilton High School as the story’s backdrop, this motion movement is characterized by, of course, fashion: Trebay cites jerking’s own “fashion memo”: skinny jeans, fat gold 80s chains and T-shirts emblazoned with the woefully unstreetwise SpongeBob SquarePants and Oscar the Grouch — where “the nerd” comes in.

And because he’s so good at street culture writing — nailing it at the right moment –I was so thrilled that one of my writing students beat him on this one.

I’ve always liked Trebay’s way into stories like this — I just wish reporters had more space to make things come alive in their keystrokes. The video is cool, but Trebay is the master of making the page dance. Sinking in is like settling on the stoop to watch too. His late-80s early-90s column in the Village Voice was a must-stop for all those wanting to know what NYC’s street culture felt, smelled, dressed and danced like at the moment. Some of those columns can be found online or in his hard-to-find-but-worth-the-effort-to collection In The Place To Be He’s one person from outside whom I don’t mind swinging into my town. Nice to see it through his eyes.

The Princess & Precious

I HAVE YET to see either “Precious” or “The Princess and the Frog” and am still feeling ambivalent. At first I wasn’t sure about what was feeding this reluctance, but all became clear when I was driving home late earlier in the week listening to a public radio call-in show whose topic that night was the first black Disney princess, Tiana. Since I came in late, I didn’t hear how the show was contextually situated. Rather, I ended up punching in the middle of a woman’s reverie about how she and her middle-aged African-American female posse had rushed to the theater to take a look at Disney’s princess, that they didn’t bring daughters or nieces or little sisters. They brought themselves and cried in the dark. “Finally,” a black movie-screen princess. They “needed” their princess. Had “waited so many years” for their princess. Felt “cheated” without their princess.

By the time I’d arrived, sitting in my driveway, still listening –the infamous NPR Driveway Moment — I wondered why all this wasn’t resonating with me quite the same way.

I grew up on Disney too. My mother took my brother and me to see a Snow White revival back in the day. I liked the songs; fell in love with Dopey (of course) went home whistling for weeks. I saw the others, Cinderella and whatever else until I grew out of it all (One of my favorites, The Aristocats, didn’t have to do with a princess at all, but now that I recall there was one kitten named thusly.). But I don’t remember being pre-occupied about the fact that there wasn’t a black princess as of yet. I had other, deeper issues with cartoons — Disney, Warner Bros., and the like. Many of them had to do with these deflating moments where you’d be laughing at something ridiculous Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck or Mickey Mouse or whomever would be doing and then out of nowhere some cartoon visage “corked-up” in inky blackface and exaggerated lips would pop up and spoil not just the moment, but the day. The emotion was some mixture of confusion and hurt that even to this day I don’t quite have a word/name for. It just lingered without a name which, I think, was what gave it more space than it deserved for longer than it should have.

Hearing these women talk the other night over the radio signal made me wonder why was it that I didn’t have the same reaction, that I didn’t feel like the princess was missing from my life, even though I probably was around the same age of the more enthusiastic callers. I had black dolls. I had a library well-represented by black books and what I didn’t have we’d go — my brother and mother and I — to the library to explore. We’d bring the books home and I’d excitedly show them to my father.There they were. Those stories on the page. I found that even then, I gravitated toward “real” stories. Even if they were troubling. I would stare at those famous Civil Rights Movement pictures — police dogs and fire hoses vs. peaceful protesters. There was confusion in that too, but it was different that the Disney/Warner Bros. version. I was learning something.

As timing would have it, the other buzzword on so many lips is another black female, a splashy, big-screen event of a whole different sort: Precious. The movie, based on a novel written by Sapphire more than a decade ago, is the heart-stomping story of a young African-American woman who experiences all manner of personal indignities and happens to rise up ultimately. It was hard reading. Harrowing. I interviewed Sapphire for the Times when the book came out. (And back then there was also a flurry pre-publication buzz for it too). Women are coming out of the theater wrecked, in tears or completely silent, gutted by it. The trailer itself had me going, I wondered, with all else that is going on right now, if I were strong enough to see this story, just now — a different black woman from the Princess but one who has become familiar within column inches of the newspaper, or “reality” T.V. dramas, or a certain type of fiction. A black woman who continues to pull life’s short-straws. It’s a sort of ‘blackness’ that has become a shorthand for ‘black experience.’ And, even with Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama in the White House, I just wonder what’s lies in-between on screen the Princess and Precious and why, even now, in year 2009, the contemporary black woman who simply *is* still isn’t as compelling as screen-fodder — it’s fantasy: or so hyper-real it bends. I guess that means ultimately, we’re not looking for a prince, but something more like balance