Tag Archives: Terry Braunstein

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.

Terry Braunstein – “Who Is She?” — Long Beach Museum of Art

SUBTLE TRIUMPH: The Fortitude of Who Is She?

The book cover image of feminist collage artist Terry Braunstein’s Who Is She? is of a female gymnast with her hands joined together over her head, which is largely hidden within a slightly tilted bucket. The woman is fully clothed: shoes, stockings, knicker-style pants ballooned by some mysteriously yeasty fabric, are all complemented by a full-size, pull-over jersey that extends from her hips to just shy of her wrists. Her neck, too, is covered. The only visible skin is the lower third of the face: chin, lips and part of the cheeks; and the wrists and hands. The uplifted arms do not seem to signify some ultimate triumph as such, but hint more of a contumacious refusal to accept the negation of the bucket. Obliteration of identity is unacceptable in Braunstein’s cosmos. Resistance is on-going, the image suggests, and the apex of the joined hands is a quiet warning to anyone who would suppose otherwise.

The covered face, however, might also suggest another metamorphosis. Women in particular are judged by their faces, and in this case the bucket might be more of a disguise than it first appears to be. A bucket is a work item that is usually associated with subservience; it carries water, and is passive in that task. It merely contains. In contrast, what the viewer doesn’t know are thoughts contained in the hidden head. Indeed, the image is more renitent than might first appear: if the figure can’t see out, it only intensifies what is seen within, and to that extent there is an overtone of a sibyl, in which the bucket operates as a metonym for the cave of her vatic habitation. The process of appropriation in collage art engenders reversals such as this, and the upside down bucket, therefore, might also suggest the upended expectations of a woman’s visionary powers.

The challenge in apprehending Braunstein’s message is not so much in the reception as in the translation of one’s understanding of it into an adequate paraphrase; for that is all one can hope to achieve: a paraphrase. Braunstein’s images give commands to the Impossible, and have no patience with anything less than instantaneous obedience. A woman hoisting one of Rene Magritte’s rocks (“The Castle of the Pyrenees”) above her head and totting “onward” is made to seem a matter of willpower alone. It’s not a question of existence precedes essence, in Braunstein’s cosmology. In an existential paradox, there is an essence of willpower that supersedes all opposition, and the quiet magnificence of Braunstein’s heroines is hypnotic.

The stalwart capacity of Braunstein’s anonymous protagonists is especially striking, given the harrowing circumstances they often find themselves embedded in. The “Nuclear Summer” series, in particular, serves as a reminder that we are hardly in a much better position in regard to the intercontinental missiles than we were back in the mid-1980s; and Braunstein’s “Women in a columned room with a terrorist” (dated 2012) recoils with a humbling urgency: somehow one must dare to live as if one’s paradise were inviolate, even as the daily trauma only accelerates. If this is a form of self-denial, then one indeed knows what it would mean to escape from the spiked coffin of social conformity. Braunstein’s heroines are prepared to flee, but their calm composure whispers, “Not unless you come with me. I will not leave you here alone.”

Although the show’s catalogue book, published by Thistle and Weed Press in South Pasadena, California, contains many of the show’s best images and contains two fine essays on Braunstein’s work, it falls short of capturing the best of her work. “Buddha in drawer,” for instance, is not reproduced in the show’s catalogue nor is her collaboration with Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, “Dancing with Kerouac,” given sufficient attention. The “Buddha” collage, in particular is haunting in its quest: the woman slides between the slightly separated jointed ends of a large drawer; the Buddha figure meditates in a corner. There is no special pleading; the protagonist knows and risk and accepts the possibility to being pinned forever in a liminal state. So, too, does the artist cut that precisely between the entrance of the image and the final sep of its choreography of juxtapositions.

Braunstein’s technical deftness verges on the casualness of a windshield wiper in a heavy storm. The road is so visible that we are almost grateful for the storm in allowing us to see it washed free of anything that would cause us to skid. As the decades have gone by and Braunstein has continued to summon the imperceptible and blend it with the incongruous, her work has contributed to the critical dialogue between what needs to be done and how much that need to alter the world might prove to be beyond our affirmation’s strength. In that sundering weakness, Braunstein’s images renew our fortitude.

If you make the trip to Long Beach to catch this show, you’ll get a rare treat: another show is also up that is worth the time spent driving here. Barbara Strasen’s “Layer by Layer” has some of the most appealing and delightful imagery I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with recently. Perhaps the highest tribute I could pay to Strasen’s exhibit is that it would easily qualify as part of the “Magical Mystery Tours” that Josine Ianco-Starrels used to organize back in the 1980s for the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park. It’s not that one shouldn’t relax in front of a work of art. It’s almost a given that one is supposed to be in a heightened state of alertness: the whole point is to question the ratio of feeling cantilevered across the work of art to the base line of its own audacious trajectory. On the other hand, if it doesn’t at some point invite you to relax and absorb – slowly absorb – its permeated secrets, then it is also playing a game with one-sided rules. Strasen’s lenticular panels exude a contagious spectrum of shifting perspectives. The afterglow will carry you to your next destination, without even being asked.

DETAILS: Terry Braunstein’s Who Is She? opened on November 20, 2015, and will continue to be on exhibit until February 14 (2016). Long Beach Museum of Art. The show’s catalogue is published by Thistle & Weed Press in South Pasadena.A long-time resident of Long Beach, Braunstein has frequently shown her collages at LBMA; she is hardly a “local” artist, however. She has had solo exhibitions in Spain and Italy as well as in New York City and Washington, D.C., and been included in several important group shows at the LA County Museum of Art and the Armand Hammer. Her honors include a Visual Artist’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985.

Bill Mohr’s prose, commentary, and poems have appeared in dozens of magazines, including the Los Angeles Review of Books, Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, Caliban (On-line), Santa Monica Review, and ZYZZYVA. Individual collections of his poetry include Hidden Proofs (1982) and Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (2006). Bonobos Editores in Mexico published a bilingual edition of his poetry, Pruebas Ocultas, in 2015. His account of West Coast poetry, Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992, was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2011. Mohr has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and is currently an Associate Professor at CSU Long Beach.

“Who is She?” — Terry Braunstein’s show in Long Beach

Saturday, August 16, 2013

In the late 1970s, I worked at a bookstore at 11th Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. It had been launched by three young fiction writers who were eager to join that decade’s lively independent book store scene in Los Angeles (and in this case, I mean the county and not the city). By the time I started working at the front counter and running the reading series, only one of the three fiction writers was still involved with the store, which served as the entry point to Los Angeles for one of its most prominent literary spokespersons, Michael Silverblatt. He had recently moved to Los Angeles and was living in an apartment, slightly north of Wilshire, several blocks west of the store, Michael didn’t drive, but he was in a perfect neighborhood to get around without a car. One afternoon, when business was slow, he happened to walk in and we began talking about poetry. I was putting together my first anthology, The Streets Inside, at the time and ended up inviting him to my apartment for a combination publication party/New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1978. It was there that he met Jim Krusoe, who became one of his enduring friends. Though Michael and I did not remain confident acquaintances, I am happy that he eventually found a niche where his specialized acuity continues to flourish.

Among the people I met at the store who turned into long-time friends was Dinah Berland, a photographer and critic who was beginning to write poetry. (The opposite move was being made by another visitor to the store, Peter Schjeldahl, who went on to write one of the classic poems about Los Angeles, “Pico Boulevard,” but would soon begin to focus on writing about art.) Dinah eventually introduced me to her best friend, Terry Braunstein, with whom she was an undergraduate roommate at the University of Michigan. I reviewed a show of Terry’s at the Long Beach Museum of Art in the late 1980s for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and have continued to admire how she retains her commitment to local activism even as she has exhibited her work on an international scale.

Terry sent out a notice the other day about her most recent project. The first weekend after Labor Day is traditionally a very busy occasion for visual artists, so I want to post her invitation well in advance so that any reader can plan her or his visits to various openings that weekend to include her event, “Who is She?” It will take place at a vacant lot in Long Beach at the corner of Anaheim & Walnut Streets. Terry’s installation/sculpture will be placed into dialogue with a choreographed piece by Cyrus Parker-Jeannette at both 5:45 and 7:45 p.m. The second performance will also feature projected animations by David Familian.

This event is part of a larger project called “A LOT,” in which vacant pieces of property in Long Beach are temporarily appropriated to present free arts experiences. It is sponsored in part by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information on both Terry and Dinah, please go to their websites: terrybraunstein.com and Dinahberland.com.