Farrah Karapetian at Von Lintel Gallery

Farrah Karapetian at Von Lintel Gallery. Photo credit: Shana Nys Dambrot.

Farrah Karapetian: Collective Memory

Von Lintel Gallery

Through February 24, 2019

Closing reception: Saturday, February 23, 6-10pm.

By Shana Nys Dambrot

A Farrah Karapetian exhibition is almost always a meditation on place. It’s not often as literal as an address; frequently the place in question is no longer in existence, or has undergone significant transformation, and has witnessed history. Karapetian is also interested in ways to document, in paradoxically fixed objects, the transitory movement of people in and through those places, and the mechanisms they might have used to define both the places and themselves. For example, her recent trip to Russia in which she collaborated with local creatives to engineer a quasi-theatrical movement exercise, which was staged as an occasion to make photograms, and from which architectural and lighting elements were culled as sculptural works for subsequent installation-based presentations. For Collective Memory, now on view at Von Lintel Gallery, Karapetian brings all of this to bear on a more specific narrative of place, one that is, in more ways than one, much closer to home.

Club Shine at the Oxwood Inn was L.A.’s last lesbian bar. It closed in 2017, but the community it attracted and nurtured lives on in many forms — the most recent of which is Karapetian’s exhibition of sculptural, photo-based, immersive, interactive works, and the eponymous collective memory of those who were its denizens. Among those who miss the shabby chic of its mirrored walls, tiny bathroom, and feeling of welcome extended to the lesbian and trans women who came there to dance, drink, and make a community were Tarrah Von Lintel herself. As a gallerist Von Lintel has long been more interested in running her art business as a conversational, social exchange of ideas than as a strictly commercial undertaking. In Collective Memory, the legacy of Club Shine and the dream of the contemporary art salon merge in a liminal, participatory space whose soft red lighting not only sets up emotional and social cues — but is also a functional element in support of the photograms Karapetian has been making throughout the exhibition.

Among the sculptural works are a pool table (the cue ball says “We”) and a stripper pole (which like Shine’s is not fixed to the ceiling so gets a bit wobbly). The latter forms, as one might imagine, a lowkey stage set for a series of movement-based photographs to be made in concert with volunteer visitors. The red light facilitates both the machine and the desired behavior. Other works arrayed across the walls and floor make additional direct reference to Club Shine — graffitied bathroom walls, shards of disco glass, ‘zine-style promotional materials, and a blackboard with two messages and a bowl of chalk: add your name to the record, we will not be erased. In fact, the graffiti and the blackboard are not only charming and engaging opportunities for direct action, but they reveal the fundamental impulse behind writing your name on walls in the first place. No matter what it actually says, the message is “I was here,” or perhaps more to the point, “We were here.”

“This show is for everybody who remembers Club Shine,” Karapetian writes in the exhibition materials. “For the rest of us, it is a chance to inhabit the role of listening author, contending with memory, loss, fascination, transition, and love, through not only our own experience but that of others.” There are a lot of reasons for the Von Lintel community, the art world more broadly, and the world in general, to be contemplating identity, community, and change just now, some more existential and others rather esoteric. Perhaps it is best, as the show suggests, that we endeavor to do so together.

Photogram sessions are available by reservation.

Closing reception: Saturday, February 23, 6-10pm.


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