"The carnivorous plants in the gazebo are very active lately," offers the greeter at the Velaslavasay Panorama on 24th Street near USC, and indeed they are. A fly hovers dangerously close to the delicate petals of one while a cat sits placidly nearby in the lovely quiet garden behind the historic building.
But I'm not here for flies. I've come to view hysterics and sleepwalkers.
Inside the dark hall that is home to the upstairs panorama is a small gallery featuring four colorful miniature wooden theaters, inside of which are tiny projections of people suffering psychic maladies. Titled "The Somnambulists" and created by New York-based media artist Zoe Beloff, who is known for her fascination with the techniques of early cinema, the pieces invite you to move in close to catch looping glimpses of hysteria shot more than 100 years ago as psychologists sought new ways to solve - or at least document - the often torturous mysteries of the unconscious. In one, a young woman writhes on the floor; in another, a woman walks with a jagged gait. You hear breathing, words, screams. The black-and-white images are ghostlike, and it's as if you're viewing the past, but an obsessive, repetitive past that cannot relinquish its traumas.
In the larger theater space, the artist has created a slightly bigger model theater with 3-D projections of two films, History of a Fixed Idea and A Modern Case of Possession onstage. The films' colors are fluorescent, and the stories are told as musicals to create oddly jaunty recapitulations of diagnoses. The 3-D images seem at once wholly present and altogether fake, a strange amalgam of fact and fiction.
Together, these mini-theaters and their films unite cinema and the psyche, showing us the technologies of film as a correlate to the psychic system. The small pieces are especially powerful, honoring the enigmatic experiences captured on film, but underscoring their unruliness in dream-like structures. "I wanted to reference these ideas in my own museum of madness," Beloff has explained in an essay. "The viewer looks into another world where patients from a hundred years ago, resurrected by electricity, reenact their traumas indefinitely."
The Velaslavasay Panorama is the ideal venue for Beloff's work. Located on 24th Street just west of Hoover in an old theater building, the place is dedicated to the "production and presentation of unusual visual experiences," and includes at the top of a spiral staircase a 360-degree immersive panorama called "Effulgence of the North." The circular painting depicts an icy arctic scene, with ice floes and a full moon, with the experience augmented by an entrancing soundscape. Initially quaint, the transformative power of the space only gradually exerts its full force. Go on a hot day, and feel yourself transported to another cooler, calmer realm.
Coming up at the Velaslavasay Panorama May 12 - 14: the 6th Ever Los Angeles Old Time Social with concerts, workshops (including Square Dance Calling) and a big family dance and cakewalk.
Located at 1122 West 24th Street, the Velaslavasay Panorama is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6:00 p.m. Beloff's projects will be on view through May 29. But beware the hungry carnivores in the garden.