Downtown on Olympic Boulevard, the decidedly un-Googleable Los Angeles Food Center is hidden in plain sight, indistinguishable from the many independent produce distribution buildings that sprout like rhizomes just outside the fences of the the gigantic Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. Semis, box trucks, and beat up minivans idle at the ground floor docks. A weathered copper plaque on the rooftop parking lot with a profile of Mayor Tom Bradley dates the building to the late 70s. Just inside the doors, an unkempt directory board offers few clues to the services offered by tenants like Stone World Inc, QSI, EC Latex, and Blue Morning Inc.
Among them is REACH LA, a non-profit youth center, HIV testing facility, dance studio, and locus of L.A.'s LGBT ballroom scene. REACH LA has worked with youth on HIV issues since 1992, initially through media art and video programs, then pivoting to health and dance as county funding changed course in the early 2000s. Each year they produce Ovahness, the largest ball on the west coast, where crews from LA's houses Blahnik, Garcon, Milan, and other houses vogue and battle for awards.
Carla Gordon is the Director of Development and Community Relations at REACH LA, and her daughter, sound artist Jacqueline Gordon, grew up making zines and videos in the REACH LA computer labs. When an office space opened up in the LA Food Center this summer, Carla helped broker a deal with the landlord for Jacquelyn to install "Everyone Will Be Here Now But Me," an immersive, after-hours sound installation that let the public explore the endless carpeted hallways, windowless offices, and echoing stairwells of the truly mixed-use building.
I always love that moment in an art installation where the line starts to blur with the rest of the world. You question everything, like "Is that radio behind that door a part of the piece?"
Jacqueline Gordon: That's why I think what I was attracted to office spaces to begin with. There's so much sound in office spaces that nobody listens to. You know, they hear it, but they're not listening to it, and that difference between those two things is something I'm really interested in.
You want to place the work in a way that it can facilitate links to other experiences that people might already have. Like after a noise show they'll say, "Oh my, gosh. I heard my refrigerator turn off for the first time."
Carla Gordon: REACH LA moved here in 1999. All of this had been really sleazy Medi-Cal clinics, so the original space was divided into little, tiny units. The bottom has always been produce.
We were looking for a space which was gang neutral so that kids of any color could come here and feel safe. That's the biggest, most important issue for us. Safety, and a kind of anonymity. We work with a predominantly gay population, but nothing in here says gay center. Nothing here says HIV clinic. This building does not speak youth center at all nor does it speak dance center.
So that's the hardest part, just getting people to get here, find it. Once they find us, then they come back.
JG: But finding things is half the battle in Los Angeles. That's just part of the adventure. Wondering what is going on behind all those buildings, and having galleries in strip malls and stuff like that. That's a huge part of L.A. to me.
How have you seen things change in the building at the over the years?
CG: A lot of the food businesses have gone away and it's substituted now by the sweat shops. It's amazing, you'll see them, pushing big, big bundles of t-shirts. They do a lot of printing, silk screening. This building is now being converted, I would say in the last four years. They mostly speak Korean.
We opened up the dance studio a year ago. I'm sure they were wondering, "What the heck is going on?" I expected some complaints when we started in here with the music, but I haven't had any.
All the instructors use this space to hold dances, choreograph, and have their house meetings. They get this space for free, and in exchange, they try to promote HIV testing in the community. Kids come up here, they'll take a test in the other office, and then they can dance. Every Wednesday night is a free-for-all night for young people to learn how to vogue. It's the only space in California I know of that's dedicated 100% to the House and Ball community, for free.
So this is a very unusual space, and I consider it a real special space.
What did you think about the way that people ended up hanging out in the installation?
JG: I'm used to showing in galleries where people just do not have the patience for sound. I'm used to trying to trick people into staying. I made the whole thing so that it could be experienced within half an hour. So I was amazed that people stuck around, going back into another space, really listening to the hallways.
One of the things I was trying to do with this was have different sound environments that affected the listener in different ways. The staircase was all pure tones that were on the low-end side, to resonate in your body. The office space was a more musical, structural composition. Something melodic with a buildup to a cinematic feeling, and the sound breaks, to bring about an awareness of how we experience music emotionally.
This room was more cerebral. I want the video to be kind of dreamlike, more abstract, with the directional speakers bouncing the sound like it was coming from the mirrors. The binaural microphones were the fourth element. You would hear the sound change whenever you're moving the head around. By manipulating something else, people can get an understanding about the way that their own body works, to experience sound based off of movement.
So bringing it back to the title of the show, the Ram Dass reference is "Be Here
Now," a book that he wrote in the '60s. Did you read "Be Here Now?"
JG: Dad did for sure.
CG: We probably all quoted it even if we didn't read it.
JG: It was a huge book in New Age, you know? The title was a reference to being present, the power of being in the moment. I know people use sound to get into those states on a body level, on a cerebral level and an emotional level.
And the rest of the title, "But Me," is because I knew during the installation, I was going to be running around like "this sounds like shit, I need to change this around," trying to get batteries working. I knew that I was not going to be present in that way at all.
Do you ever get to a point where everything is right, or are you always trying to finesse it some more?
That's the medium for me. I didn't come here with any sounds prepared. I didn't come into this space with anything, and that's the way that I work.
After being in here the first day and testing the sound in there, seeing the threshold of when it was clear, when it was muddy, I went home and I recorded 40 tracks on this one synthesizer, and then I brought that all in here and I mixed it all together in this space.
I basically made everything on the fly, over that weekend before the show. Then I tuned it all and I got it to the way that I want it to be.
Sculptural and installation-based work is what I mostly do. The sound and the sculptures
are dependent on each other and sometimes they do really link up and they are solid and they never change. Other times, they're really fluid. I might show a piece and I might rework the sound for the next show. It's still a speaker. It's a sound file. Those can always change. There's nothing really permanent about that.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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About the Author
California becomes an international export by redefining the concept of city and home.
Through workshops, education and placed based projects, art is the connective tissue of a community.
Funding bubbles, cultural deserts and the politics of access to the arts in the 21st century.
At the shadow of the entertainment industry, video artists and underground filmmakers take a stand.
Noir, sunshine and dystopia create a multi-ethnic narrative that is read, watched and admired around the globe.
Multi-hyphenate works that combine disciplines, remix dogmas, and reinvent the wheel.
A dialogue between cultures, the music of our state serves up the California dream like no other artform.
Staging the drama of California through dance, music and theater.
Breaking away from the European and New York vanguard, California reinvents the art world.