Reality & Imagination: Three Unique Shows at the Pasadena Armory
By Patrick Quinn
Through January 8th
The Armory Center for the Arts has been a creative force in Pasadena for over 60 years. It was initially conceived as the education program for the Pasadena Museum of Art. When the museum closed in 1974 (only to reopen a year later as the Norton Simon), the Center continued working out of school campuses and other venues. Eventually it moved to its current location, a former National Guard Armory, in 1989.
Over the past few decades, the Center has thrived and expanded. Since 2011, Irene Tsatsos has been the Center’s Director of Exhibition Programs and Chief Curator. Formerly with LACE and the Whitney in New York, she has consistently overseen exhibits that are challenging and complex. The three shows currently on display easily fit that description.
Featured in the main gallery is Radio Imagination: In the Archive of Octavia E. Butler. The fascinating concept for this show was curated by Clockshop, a local arts organization. On the ten-year anniversary of her death, six artists were invited to create new work inspired by the personal papers of noted Science-Fiction author Octavia E. Butler. Her successful career included Nebula and Hugo awards and a lifetime achievement award from PEN West. She is also the only Sci-Fi writer to earn a MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellowship. Stored at the Huntington Library, her archives include early short stories, photographs, correspondence, and notebooks in which she wrote her daily thoughts. The six artists were given complete access to the collection and invited to react, re-imagine, and respond to what they saw and read. The works in this show are the results.
Setting the tone as you enter is a slide show of some of the archival materials that the artists worked with.
The main room is dominated by an installation by Lauren Halsey built with foam, paint, plaster, and cardboard. She was inspired by Butler’s description of an imaginary location for a possible story; “Let it take place on an ice desert….a place that makes terrible demands. This one must be a world that changed in recent geological history.” The artist calls this and previous works of a similar nature “fantasyscapes.”
Octavia Butler was fascinated by the unusual arcana of Botany and as a Pasadena resident, most likely spent many hours exploring the gardens of the Huntington. Using multiple exposures and large format photography, Connie Samaras combines pictures of the gardens with images and text from the archives.
Mendi & Keith Obadike have created a four-channel audio installation; Ring Shout (for Octavia Butler). The artists read excerpts from an unpublished short story mixed with recordings of the earth’s electromagnetic field. Following this exhibit, they will launch a satellite into space and broadcast Ring Shout over radio frequencies.
Showing in another small room is an eleven-minute video by Cauleen Smith entitled Kindred. Originally the artist had created a short film based on Butler’s novel Vinculum, but since the rights to that project are owned by a third party, Butler’s estate requested the film be removed from the exhibit. Kindred is the artist’s filmed response to these events.
Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade have created a 3-D animated video entitled Star Choir. The video works in tandem with a musical composition written for voice and orchestra which was performed at the opening of the show. The lyrics were drawn from an unfinished novel by Butler titled Parable of the Trickster. Along with the video, the sheet music for the piece is also on display.
One could argue that the concept for Radio Imagination is more intriguing than the actual art that was produced. There’s little connection to Octavia Butler as a person with the exception of a series of drawings by Laylah Ali from a series she calls Commonplace Drawings. The text is drawn from Butler’s daily journal entries that include everything from story ideas to grocery lists. But overall, the show is stimulating and rewards the viewer who will spend some time with the work.
Showing in tandem with Radio Imagination is The Inner Reality of Ultra-Intelligent Life, the first solo show in Los Angeles for interdisciplinary artist Harry Dodge. For the past few decades, Dodge has been equally acclaimed for his work with video, sculpture, drawing, and performance art. Overseen by Associate Curator Suzy Halajian, the show references all stages of the artist’s career culminating with two new videos made especially for this show. As explained in the artist’s statement, these particular pieces of work were chosen for “their poetic discussion of the possibilities for moving beyond a desire for purity—primitivism, neo-Luddism—and into a state of ecstatic contamination, be it mechanic, affective, or intersubjective.”
Finally, the smallest show in size though certainly not in scope can be found upstairs in the Art Alliance Gallery. In the center of the room is a 3D model of a craftsman house. But this is not just any random house; it’s an accurate replica of La Casita, the Armory’s community learning annex. Located in Northwest Pasadena, La Casita is used primarily by young ELS (English as a Second Language) students. Artist Carmen Argote has attached small white signs to the models’ facades. On the signs is hand-written text which was traced from her Grandmother’s spiral notebook. The notebook she kept during her own ESL education years ago.
The exhibit is entitled Workbook / Notebook and was curated by Sinead Finnerty-Pyne. On its own, the show is a successful and satisfying experience. But for the ambitious and curious visitor, there’s more…
Copies of the signs are available as keepsakes and a replica of her Grandmother’s notebook is on display.
A short five-minute drove from the Armory takes you to the real La Casita where the artist has installed the same signs with the same text for an experience that’s completely different and yet exactly the same.
All three shows are open until January 8th. The Armory is located at 145 N. Raymond Avenue in Pasadena.
La Casita is located at 805 N. Madison Avenue in Northwest Pasadena.
The galleries are open Tuesday – Sunday, 12 – 5
For further information, call (626) 792-5101 or visit http://www.armoryarts.org/