“SPACELAND III | Aftermath” at Bermudez Projects
by Jennifer Susan Jones
Bermudez Project’s SPACELAND III | Aftermath, which has been extended through October 20th 2016, has connected artists to create joint works of art in order to demonstrate the strength and effectiveness of their combined efforts as the theme’s fictional projection of Los Angeles rebuilds itself atop the rubble of the post-apocalyptic SPACELAND II | Escape from Spaceland.
Curator Julian Bermudez’s SPACELAND narrative, which is comprised primarily of artists represented by Bermudez Projects and a small selection of guest artists, began in 2012 with works conveying a “vibrant metropolis filled with beauty, unity, and optimism.” The SPACELAND III exhibit features the following artists, listed alongside their collaborators: Nanci Amaka with Kellan Shanahan; Emmanuel Crespo with Cody Norris; Gordon Henderson with John S. Rabe; Andrew Lyon with Johnny Taylor; and Erynn Richardson with Camilla Taylor. Newcomers include Johnny Adimando, Jesse K. Phillips, and Sean Patrick Sullivan.
I recently visited with Julian Bermudez and three of the exhibiting SPACELAND artists (landscape painter Cody Norris, photographer John S. Rabe, and composer Jesse K. Phillips) in Bermudez’s eighth-floor gallery space overlooking downtown Los Angeles. Upon entry into the gallery, and after shaking the hand and meeting the acquaintance of an enthusiastic and grinning Julian Bermudez, I was immediately struck with the immensity of Rabe’s double-sided, three-paneled, 8 foot tall contemporary altarpiece presenting larger than life size iPhone photographs of the modern, shame-free nude forms of Adam and Eve, posing with with cartoon-bright, wood cut, painted fruits and a lurking serpent. The symbolism of the man and woman, void of clothing, strolling in a drought-stricken, empty plot of L.A. soil, evokes a sense of vulnerable exploration not unlike the first tentative steps of an astronaut on virgin cosmic ground – can the brave explorer make it across the rubble and plant his flag successfully while the inhabitants of Earth watch from afar? The dark-haired subjects represent the mixed heritage of Los Angeles, and they help each other awaken via gentle touches as they hold and gaze upon the fruit – the symbols of sweet hope and nourishment – that will sustain them along their path of rebirth. The visibility of their genitals helps nudge the idea that it’s up to these two, the fittest who survived, to connect, copulate, and slowly repopulate the barren landscape by bearing fruit from their loins in a place which was left all too quiet in the catastrophic aftermath of SPACELAND II.
Rounding Rabe’s photographs – which splay open to the gallery in what feels like a giant, symbolic, pictorial book of Genesis – I found my eyes casting into the depths of a large, three-paneled landscape painted by Cody Norris. Norris has painted a concrete, ivy-entwined bridge which has stoutly withstood the destruction (save for a few crumbly dings) and therefore maintains much of its integrity against a backdrop of what could be either a misty sunrise or a dusty sunset flanked by distant buildings. The resilient, fabric and metal clad characters painted by Emmanuel Crespo step noisily through this muted pastel landscape, their clunky, clanging footsteps and squeaky wheels breaking the silence of the mostly still and thin-stretched hours of this surreal snapshot in time. Crespo seeks to “encourage a personal reflection in the viewer” and he succeeds here, as looking upon his resourceful characters – whose identities remain concealed behind masks and cloth – we ask ourselves, “How would I fare in a world in which I’m forced to forge my way into a new and uncertain horizon?”
By this time in my visit, I’d begun to relax and settle into the story that was being told in so many different ways around me. I stepped away from the visuals and turned to the auditory art of Jesse K. Phillips, asking him about his use of the various musical devices he’d placed around the gallery. Among them was a thick, plastic, pudding-colored cassette player which resembled a toy tackle box, playing the music he felt best paired with the artwork above it. Boxy and mechanistic, yet revolutionary for its time, the cassette player paired perfectly with the squares, gears, strips (which resembled magnetic tape), and angular pitch of the Adimando and Sullivan sculpture that hung above it. Philips set the mood for each art piece by using various players – including an iPod connected to an amplifier, a Sony disc-man with a telephone receiver which plays music into the holder’s ear, and a boom box – to deliver originally composed sounds and found/layered recordings. By utilizing a spectrum of primitive to sophisticated sound technology, Philips delivers an experience which takes us through the passage of time, while respectfully (and subconsciously) allowing us the space we need to absorb a story which is best received when one can orient oneself slowly within the distinct spaces of each section of the exhibit.
One of these sections is an entire wall which is covered with an installation of silkscreen “wallpaper” adorned with the deer and human forms created by prints of a work created by Erynn Richardson and Camilla Taylor. In this work, which is installed in three distinct and paler prints on panel atop the wallpaper, deer antlers frame three humans which bow and appear weak alongside two, alert female deer, with a stately buck staring forward and holding steady at the foundation of the piece. Richardson feels a “deep attachment to her subjects” and here the work seems to speak of the fragility inherent within the relationship between man and nature: man, depicted as weak, hangs like a limp flower, vulnerable in his nudity, his soft and fragile body in danger of being pierced by the hard, pointed antlers. In a world trying to rebuild itself, perhaps it is wise to reconsider the rapport we have with animals – whether it be our dependence on them for food or companionship.
The theme of fragility is also explored in the sculpture created by Nanci Amaka and Kellan Shanahan. A soft, tender, flesh-colored nodule folds toward its pink insides as its outer edges bristle with “metal” shards that resemble robotic feathers. Can the whole remain safe with such an inconsistent and false armour, and will the wolves remain at bay long enough for the armour to gain ground? This piece could be viewed as a powerful metaphor for strength in numbers and the importance of cooperation in the aftermath of a war or environmental disaster.
SPACELAND III tells the story of a vulnerable, persistent, optimistic, and clever race of Angelinos experiencing rebirth in a time where resources are scarce, and the past is clung to both literally – in the rugged and survivalist sense – and in the cherished memories we cradle to our breasts like semi-tangible, fading apparitions. There is hope that hovers in a barely perceptible glow above the rubble, and, much like the seedlings that lie unseen below spring snow, humans will push through and grow, even under the harshest of circumstances.
SPACELAND III runs through October 20th at Bermudez Projects in downtown Los Angeles. Gallery visits are through appointment only, at 117 W. 9TH Street, Space 810, Los Angeles, California, 90015. Please visit Bermudezprojects.com for more information on the exhibit, or to schedule a visit.