Made in L.A.: Five Artists Not to Miss

James Benning
In 2002, James Benning bought a parcel of land in the Sierra Nevada which housed a single rustic cabin. Once he fixed up the home, he built two more. The first was a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond, the subject and setting of his 1854 book “Walden.” The second was a copy of Ted Kaczynski’s cabin in Lincoln, Montana, where the Unabomber penned his manifesto “Industrial Society and Its Future.”
At first thought, these characters may not seem to share much in terms of intentions, but both occupants wrote extensively and in relative isolation, warning their audiences against the dangers of modern technology. The models are also makeshift movie sets. Many of the films by the artist, who was trained as a mathematician—like Kaczynski—are meditations on the subtle, often underestimated forces of nature. Previously
capturing the jagged salt crystals and arid desert air of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the slow transition from daylight to darkness and his porch view over four seasons, the CalArts professor is often grouped with the Structural filmmakers of the 1960s, such as Hollis Frampton and Tony Conrad. For this year’s show, he presents his 2016 film Found Fragments (scorched earth, Ash 01, RED CLOUD), a tranquil forest meditation.

Naotaka Hiro
Japanese artist Naotaka Hiro, based in Pasadena, probes the metaphysical experience of his own body—or rather, he asks who, or what, does he embody? Working in sculpture, performance, video and painting—and often incorporating several of these media within a single presentation—replicas of his own body parts encounter fantastical counterparts. In his video The Pit (Dancer with Golden Lips), a shot of a latex cast modeled after and affixed to the artist’s own golden, glittery face pans out to incorporate a model of a futakuchi-onna, or Japanese monster—in this piece, it takes the form of a cursed woman who develops a second mouth on the back of her head, her hair forming into snakes which gather food and deliver it to the second mouth. His famed Peak, a performance and its resulting painting, and Peaking, his video documentation of the process, shows the artist filming his own body from inside a rolled-up canvas. The painting at the end of this process is exhibited unstretched, its recto still concealed. Other sculptures feature his limbs cast in bronze, while the work in “Made in L.A.,” including Untitled (Field), 2017, (at right) layers oil pastel, dye and grommets tersely over canvas. The dark mythological forces contaminating his body are the pathways into investigating its mysteries.

John Houck
John Houck’s neatly creased, overlapping sheets of paper project a depth where the eye only expects surface. The meticulous crimps in his 2013 series “A History of Graph Paper,” with their pleasing linearity and soothing blue tones, reflect the sensibilities of the artist’s work, a former computer programmer who was born on a reservation in South Dakota and studied architecture and engineering before attending the Whitney Museum’s theory-driven Independent Study Program in 2010. Photographing a photograph of a photograph, and layering images with each cycle of printing, is the artist’s analog approach to trompe l’oeil digital image manipulation. Methodical and geometric, his photographs of carefully chosen objects—mementos from childhood given to him by his parents mixed in with household items and drafting tools from his studio—are spread across papers in sorbet hues and then reprinted, only to be folded and photographed again.

Suné Woods
Canadian-born artist Suné Woods, based in LA’s Mid-Wilshire neighborhood, creates kaleidoscopic, intricately layered collages in her videos, installations and photographs. Previous works have incorporated seashells overlaying painstakingly precise cutouts of handguns, isolated fingers and hands (borrowed from a friend working as a barber), and freeze-frames from violent news reports. She has also referenced such diverse materials as Charles Burnett’s 1990 film To Sleep With Anger and Audre Lorde’s seminal text “The Uses of the Erotic.” She screens her 2017 film installation Falling to get here at the biennial. Woods’s conceptual collages explore the tension between intimacy and alienation, strikingly presented in her 2015 exhibition “To Sleep With Terra” at Papillion in Leimert Park. For the show she cast several performers to play the roles of Conjurer, Guerrilla and Sage in the two-channel video A Feeling Like Chaos. The radiant trio wanders together, repeating the chorus “I am not afraid” in different languages. Human
Achievements in Limbo, one of the 13 mixed media works in “To Sleep With Terra,” has two yellowing fragments of book pages hanging side by side. On the left is an image of a woman dancing the limbo low enough to get herself into the Guinness Book of World Records; on the right is a thumb puncturing the moon, while a photograph of the Saturn V rocket launch runs below it. Her reaches into the past run parallel to her ruminations on family, silence and visibility.

Luchita Hurtado
Like many young artists, Luchita Hurtado had a string of creative gigs before devoting
herself fully to the studio. She got her start in the 1940s working as a fashion illustrator for Condé Nast and painting a mural for Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue department store. For decades, the native Venezuelan had a free-spirited lifestyle, moving between New York, Mexico City and San Francisco, and finally arriving in Santa Monica, where she lives today. By 2016, she was ready to show the work that had been accumulating in her studio, and at 96 years old, she presented “Selected Works, 1942–1952” at Park View gallery in MacArthur Park. Though she was close to John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Leonora Carrington, Isamu Noguchi and Frida Kahlo—and was married to the late Lee Mullican (their son is artist Matt Mullican)—her style has remained consistent and singular. The one-bedroom apartment gallery was an intimate setting for her small color-blocked drawings on paper. Layering ink, watercolor and crayon, the graphic forms were informed by the short-lived post-Surrealist Dynaton group’s references to Eastern philosophy. While her older works, such as the untitled paintings of bodies and fruit hovering over geometric backgrounds on view in “Made in L.A.,” reference Surrealism and ancient rituals, the work she makes now are much more earthly—reflective of the stress our planet endures today.

 

LALA, Summer 2018

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