SHIVA SPACES: Hidden Rooms, Art At The Rendon
June 1 – June 3
By Betty Brown
In “Hidden Rooms,” Cindy Schwarzstein has assembled over 50 visual artists, along with numerous musicians and other performers, to “activate” the abandoned spaces of the former Rendon Hotel (2055 E 7th St, DTLA.) This essay surveys some of the installations erected in the single rooms once inhabited by down-on-their-luck Angelinos. Although many of the participants are known for their graffiti and murals and others are more traditional gallery artists, all of them transformed decrepit architectural interiors into resonant aesthetic statements. The best of them achieved this transformation by contrasting perceived oppositions, such as creation/destruction, male/female, high/low, inside/outside, and fine art vs. popular or “low-brow” art. Holding these oppositions in creative balance, they can be seen as artistic acolytes of the Hindu deity Shiva.
Perhaps the artwork most easily understood as a Western monument in honor of Shiva, the God of Transformation, is the two-storey-tall altar created by the artist Shrine On. Known for his 20-foot tall edifices created completely from trash at Coachella, Shrine creates work that hovers somewhere between Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers and Robert Williams’ low-brow painting. At the Rendon, he installed an altar composed of painted wood, strings of light, beads, bottle-tops, and tin cans. Shrine’s altar has the intentional visual redundancy of richly bejeweled Hindu temples, but is built from urban detritus.
Bisco Smith (who is from Los Angeles, but now resides in Queens) is a street artist, known for what he calls “visual freestyle:” energetic, gestural graffiti calligraphy usually articulated in black on white abstract marks. His fiercely delineated room recalls both Japanese brushwork and Abstract Expressionism: Robert Motherwell meets Mark Tobey in a frenzied sumi-e mash-up.
Mark Dean Veca takes graffiti calligraphy to a remarkably sophisticated level, wrapping his signature curving lines around all surfaces of his selected room. The twisting hatched contours transform the distressed hotel room interior into an animated space of meandering marks. Veca’s accomplished brush strokes, with their precision and fluidity, are energetic and comedic and just plain cool.
Another notable draftsman, Abel Alejandre, uses his considerable technical skills to create a male response to the #MeToo movement. One wall of his room is dominated by an ominous ape head, which was initially inspired by the visage of Harvey Weinstein. On the opposite wall stand three men. They wear black Mad-Men business suits and snarling wolf heads. Elsewhere, pairs of eyes float through an inky sky, like anonymous practitioners of the consuming male gaze. As a man and a member of a traditionally macho culture, Alejandre takes a considerable risk in addressing toxic masculinity, but avoids any heavy-handed didacticism with the seductive beauty of his art.
Current political issues dominate the work in several “Hidden Rooms.” Emmeric Konrad creates a Trumpian Last Supper, with a zombie-like #45 flanked by numerous dolls whose eyes have been gouged out (by the egregious lies of fake news?) The dolls cry black tears, stained by the environmental devastation of current political abuses.
Ralph Ziman (AKA Afrika47) papered the entire interior of his room with Trump-faced dollar bills. (Check out what happens when you Google “Trump dollars”!) Suspended on the walls are assault weapons, also covered in the pseudo-currency. (Kind of like the pseudo-presidency…?) The room is hilarious, but deeply troubling.
And Indecline (an Art Activist Collective founded in 2001) presents a sandcastle White House foundering on an isolated beach, with unread messages in the bevy of bottles that has washed ashore. The sand structure is surrounded by an overgrown (apocalyptic?) environment that recalls the jungle worlds of Planet of the Apes.
Natasa Prosenc Stearns surrounds her room in video screens and video projections, all portraying the artist herself walking through the Rendon Hotel halls and stairwells. The videos are dreamlike, in their hazy, silvery coloration and mysterious content. Steamy is transformed into a ghostly presence, haunting the abandoned building.
Teale Hatheway focuses on details from historic LA architecture. She has painted these details on loosely draped silk so that they ripple through the room like shadowy phantoms. Sometimes the silk hangings shoot out the window to flutter, cloudlike, above the street.
Susan Feldman also incorporated artistic elements that move out of the room into the external environment. In her case, it was the disarticulated legs of a fashion mannequin. Feldman selected her Rendon room because the walls were a patchwork of purple and moss green. She left the colored surfaces and created a room-sized assemblage that can be related to Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau from 1937. Employing discarded and distressed wood as well as the string and rope that have been the basis of so much of her oeuvre, Feldman wove her art through the rectangular void of the room. She pierced the walls, attached string and wood to the ceiling, and painted echoing images on the floor, and transformed the abandoned space into an all-immersive sculpture.
Dave Lovejoy‘s room is similarly transformed into an all-immersive sculpture. Instead of construction discards, Lovejoy uses twigs and stems, bunching them and curling them around to create immense basket-like shapes crowded into the interior space. Lovejoy was inspired to do this by a newspaper clipping he found on his first trip to the Rendon. The clipping discussed three gravitational fields located in the artist’s selected room. He wondered what affect such gravity fields would have on straight branches inserted into the room. Would they bend? What direction(s) would they take? Would they pull chairs and other objects off the floor?
The “Hidden Rooms” installations present numerous conceptual oppositions: they are both creative and disruptive, masculine and feminine, personal and political. As such, they embody the dualism assigned to Shiva, the Hindu god of transformation. Shiva represents ambiguity and paradox, appearing as male as well as female, creator as well as destroyer, householder as well as ascetic yogi. The deity reminds us that life is not, in fact, consistent or rational. Instead, existence is rife with challenges and contradictions. The “Hidden Rooms” artists engage the magic of aesthetic transformation to give engaging physical form to such contradictions.