A New Genre of Art Writing
Gas, various locations
through August 2
Written by Lara Salmon
Coming off the bustling strip of night life on York Boulevard, on a Saturday evening in July, is a small alternative art gathering. This pop-up enclave of DIY art vendors carries the hipster, community-based atmosphere of its Highland Park neighborhood. Parked in front of the event, and not to be confused with one of the many vegan food trucks which line the street, is Gas: a mobile art gallery in a brown truck. It displays Ana Teo Ala-Ruona’s show, and tonight is the opening. Gas gallery is one of Los Angeles’ more unique exhibition spaces, whose roving exhibitions show around the city. Ceci Moss, the director of Gas, coordinates to have it parked in front of art galleries, artist-run spaces, at art fairs and alongside pop-up events.
The visitors’ first encounter with this show is auditory. As we step into the truck, we hear voices projected from two speakers. The recordings are readings, and it is difficult to make out exactly what is said. The speakers compete with each other, each one playing different dialogues, and these mix with the sounds of cars whizzing by just feet away. We hear something about the earthquakes, love, identity, statements that meander into questions without answers. Other than the auditory aspect of the show, there is painted script along the walls of the space. It addresses the body, as an organic mass and the entity through which words flow. A place to exist, to try to live unbound by identity norms.
Teo is a visual and performance artist who usually lives in Helsinki, Finland. They produce writing workshops as part of their practice, and this exhibition is derived from the most recent workshop which took place in downtown Los Angeles at NAVEL from July 4-7. The open call for the workshop was for trans, nonbinary, queer people and women—thirteen participants in total. These requirements imply the space is for those who have felt repression due to gender identity or sexual orientation. It is not open to cis-gendered, heterosexual males. Both the workshop at NAVEL and exhibition in Gas are titled TWAH (=These Worlds Are Here). Though the structure of the four-day workshop is not specifically stated, descriptions of its methodology and aspirations give us hints. One of the ideas that falls into the rhetoric several times is the creation of “feminist speculative fiction,” and the use of LARP (Live Action Role Play). It seems the time these individuals spent together was to practice writing as a way to process personal challenges and envision new realities. Collectively they may have imagined and embodied futures void of binaries or systems of patriarchy.
Critical investigation of repressive structures through queer and feminist lenses is not unusual in art today. Neither is community-centered activity to imagine utopias. Projects like these repudiate the hierarchical nature of the commercial art world; they foster the idea that group care is part of self-care. It is important that artists continue to work as Teo does, to open spaces for concentrated connection. When artists find ways to support each other—emotionally, financially, with new opportunities—they counteract the competitive nature of the art systems we operate within. Teo’s work is clearly centered on process, in this case group process.
TWAH (=These Worlds Are Here) is in some sense Teo’s solo show, though the primary material (which is writing) is co-authored. Who wrote which text remains undisclosed unless you recognize a voice. This semi-anonymity carries over into the publication that accompanies the show, and was presumably agreed upon by the group. The heartfelt looks of delight as participants arrive at the opening show deep connections were made during the workshop. On this occasion our perception of the bond these people formed over the four days, when the group, possibly strangers, were trusting and vulnerable with each other, becomes the heart of the show. Teo’s eyes shine as they talk about the project. It is clear they have great fulfillment in providing this space for others who have felt oppressed due to gender identity or sexual orientation. By validating each other’s dreams, the group exists for a moment where mundane beauty is observed, where difficult emotions are contemplated, and where writers compose without inhibition.
Ana Teo Ala-Ruona’s exhibition TWAH(=These Worlds Are Here) is on view in Gas from July 13 – August 2. Visit their website for viewing dates and locations: https://gas.gallery/exhibitions/ana-teo-ala-ruona/
The TWAH workshop participants are Angi Brzycki, Jessica Fee, Prima Jalichandra-Sakuntabhai, R. Kauff, Arin Krausz, Julia Mande, Renée Reizman, Bridgid Ryan, Daviel Shy, Soffia Stiassni, Kristof Trakal, Annabel Turrado, and Udita Upadhyaya.