COLA Awards Exhibit, 2018

June 30, 2018 — COLA Exhibit at Barnsdall Park — Municipal Art Gallery of the City of Los Angeles

Last weekend was the final chance to see the exhibit of artists awarded a recent fellowship from the City of Los Angeles, and the only day I was free to make the trip turned out to be on Sunday, since Linda and I attended a memorial service for the brother of one of her oldest and best friends on Saturday. The exhibit only included the visual artists, since the literary and performance awardees had presented their work in mid-month. I was pleased to see that Peter J. Harris had won one of those awards, and wish I could have attended his event.

Of the visual artists, I was especially impressed with the work of Guillermo Bert, Terry Braunstein, Sandra de la Loza, and Michelle Dizon, and the ways in which daunting journeys are undertaken by both imaginary characters and actual individuals. In evoking the social imaginary of public transportation in Los Angeles, for instance, Sandra de la Loza’s installation made use of redacted copies of newspaper articles about the labor strike in 1903 by several hundred Mexican workers, employed on the construction of the Great Pacific Electric Railway. Her redaction underlines the silencing of the workers themselves. According to de la Loza, not a single one of the workers was quoted in the newspaper reports of that labor strike. I hope that de la Loza is able to place a copy of her text at the Huntington Library, as a document that serves to contextualize the price paid by Mexican workers to help Huntington accumulate the wealth that established this cultural resource.

Michelle Dizon made use of written testimony, too, though in her case her imagined author is her great-great-great-granddaughter, Latipa, who shares that name with the artist’s great-great-grandmother. The temporal trajectory of Dizon’s project is over two centuries, from 1905 to 2123; her project brings to mind the ambitious scope of a writer such as the late Octavia Butler. Indeed, the letter in which the “mirror” characters serve as the imagined writer and reader is as eloquent as the best moments in Butler’s writing.

Guillermo Bert’s project was one of the most poignant testimonies to the crisis of migration and its harrowing risks. “Tumble Dreams” elevated over a half-dozen full-size tumbleweeds about seven feet off the ground and projected the face of a migrant from Guatemala as he spoke of the incessant uncertainties of traversing over 1500 miles to be with his sister and her family in Arizona. A small video screen provided a transcription of his words in the original Spanish as well as an English translation.

Finally, I want to give special praise to the work presented by Terry Braunstein, whose “Ladder” cyclorama exuded a magnetically charged dreamscape of people displaying the human impulse to stay upright, no matter how minimal the requital might be. Both clustered in mutual ascent and compelled to climb in solitude, the social life of transcendence has rarely asked us with such quiet resolve to turn from the meditation of the art to our lives and inquire exactly what it is we hold onto so tightly. In at least one way, Braunstein’s book art of “Broken Vow” speaks of the promises that may be next to impossible to fulfill, and yet we remain haunted by that possibility. It is worth noting that my brother-in-law, Vince, and his friend Marcie, met us at the exhibit, and afterwards they commented on Braunstein’s work was their favorite in the entire exhibit.

One might note a circle of women in the lower right hand corner of the bottom of the following two detail photographs I took of Braunstein’s “Ladder.” This circle reminded me of the meditation engaged in by the Living Theater at the beginning of their play, “Frankenstein,” in which the program noted that the ensemble is trying to levitate, and if they do, the play is over. That effort still remains a tantalizing perspective.

Braunstein - Ladder

Braunstein - Ladder Two

In order to give the recognition accorded to the above artists some context, I would note that these COLA awards have gone in the past to some of my favorite artists in this city, including Kim Abeles, Alison Saar, Luis Alfaro, Nancy Buchanan, Robert Flick, Laura Aguilar, Robert Nakamura, John Outerbridge, Jo Ann Callis, Lita Albuquerque, Fran Siegel, and Suzanne Lacy. The writers who have included Wanda Coleman, Katherine Haake, Eloise Klein Healy, Terry Wolverton, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Jen Hofer, Fernando Castro, Sarah Maclay, Lynne Thompson, Claudia Rodriguez, Peter J. Harris, and Joseph Mattson.