By Mark Allen
Machine Project started in 2003, when I rented a storefront in Echo Park and started using it as a place to smash together everything happening in L.A. that I was excited about; music, poetry, performance, deep-frying random food, cutting holes in the floor, dance, robots, whatever. For ten years, the space served as a place for artists to try out new ideas, and after staging approximately 1,000 events there, it was time to push ourselves out of the nest and investigate the city.
As part of the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., Machine Project asked artists to take on the whole environment of Los Angeles and create performances shot on video and edited into short experimental films in response to notable architectural sites throughout the city.
Instead of starting with architects' grand visions, we focused our research on the everyday ways we experienced architecture as inhabitants of Los Angeles: stopping at places we'd always driven by; taking turns we always meant to make; finally checking out the weird places our friends told us about; listening to stories about city planning visions gone wrong; and generally getting lost and ending up places we've never been before.
As our first major public art series outside of a museum, we learned a lot about the complications of working outside of your front door. The route taken by Johanna Kozma's mobile play (A re-imagined chapter of Homer's "Odyssey" staged in a Honda Odyssey van) had to be modified when an oil tanker crash inconveniently melted a freeway ramp the day of the show. The government shut-down got in the way of a film permit we were counting on for an sculptural installation in the Angeles National Forest. We've always been a shoot first, evade answering questions later kind of organization, so permitting itself was a brand new venture for us, not to mention the everyday struggles of renting convertibles for tracking shots, figuring out when low tide is, convincing Angelenos to carpool with strangers, squeezing a film crew into a hotel room for 24 hours, trying not to damage historic homes via embroidery classes or dinner theater, convincing an entire neighborhood to let us film them from their backyards peeping-tom style, hiring our intern's sister's friends as lifeguards, and generally explaining to the police and other authority figures that "it's an art project."
The positive side of working out in public was all the new ways we've gotten to connect with audiences. I love the porousity of our storefront space, the big front window, people wandering in from the street, our confused neightbors. Going out in the city was the next
step in that. Watching Cliff Hengst interact with the inhabitants of MacArthur park as the ghost of Whitney Houston seemed like a new (admittedly confusing) form of public outreach, while getting tract home neighbors to voyeuristically peer into each other's lives was an intriguing method of community organizing.
With many of the performances designed to be seen live by very small audience, the resulting films became an alternative route to bring the work to the public. Video and performance have a funny, awkward relationship. It's hard to experience any live event now without having your view blocked by a cloud of arms holding up cellphone cameras, but seldom does a video capture the most exciting things about performance, which are pretty non-material, even invisible; the vibe of the audience and the effect produced by being in physical proximity to the performer. For a series about architecture, it was doubly important to try and capture what something felt like in the space that it happened in.
We've been working on video documentation pretty intensely for the last three years, but this was our first opportunity to do a series in which the creation of the video was part of the process from the start of the project. The artists we were working with responded to this with a wide range of strategies. Kamau Patton's helicopter tour took on the language and tools of cinema directly, and designed a performance to be seen as a live stream over the Internet. For Jaqueline Gordon's project, we based the dolly shots of endlessly hallways on Stanley Kubrick, and we indulged in gratuitous underwater cinematography for ING's pool performance.
Finally, this was a great opportunity for me to give curatorial feedback and driving advice at the same time while getting car sick. For the following weeks, Artbound will chronicle the collective creation of the Machine Project "Field Guide to L.A. Architecture" by featuring a diverse offering of essays, interviews, and the artists' videos. Enjoy the show!
Want to read more? Check out more of Artbound's most recent articles:
Incubators: Machine Project
We talk to Mark Allen of Machine Project for the first iteration of our new column "Incubators," which seeks to illuminate the interconnected ecosystem of artistic production often obscured by the high visibility of commercial galleries and large museums.
Jmy James Kidd and the Sunland Dancers on Flat Top Hill
Choreographer Jmy James Kidd's group, The Sunland Dancers, performed "Welcome," on Montecito Heights' Flat Top Hill at sunset in June 2013.
17 Weird Pool Performances Your Swim Coach Doesn't Want You To Know About
In "Wash," an audience was encouraged to swim and explore an underwater viewing room over the course of a slowly shifting three-hour pool performance.
Jacqueline Gordon's L.A. Food Center Soundscapes
"Everyone Will Be Here Now But Me" is an immersive sound installation where the public explores endless hallways, windowless offices, and stairwells of a mixed-use building.
The HafoSafo Chorus and the Sunset Foot Clinic Sign Online
Machine Project leads a singalong underneath the spinning "Happy Foot/Sad Foot" sign on Sunset Blvd.
Cliff Hengst's Semi-Fictionalized, Drag Double-Decker Bus Tour
Artist Cliff Hengst embarked from The Beverly Hilton to perform "It's Not Right But It's OK," perhaps the first ever historic autobiographical semi-fictionalized disembodied drag double decker bus tour.
Top Image: Still from "Welcome."
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