Freewaves: Love &/Or Fear in Hollywood
Written by Genie Davis
Freewaves creates public media art events that bring a mix of independent media artists and diverse audiences together. That’s the organization’s website requoted — but the events they create seem to go far beyond that and their commitment to creating platforms and communication between media arts artists.
With Love &/Or Fear, a vibrant night of performance art and media held at venues on Hollywood Boulevard including LACE and on the street itself, viewers and participants – and viewers who became participants – experienced a mix of carnival and socio-political insight.
In July 2018, attending the organization’s first and similar event held in the Downtown State Historic Park, the feeling was of attending a ground-breaking, kinetic, performance art environment. On Hollywood Boulevard September 7th, the involvement was more visceral, the vibe more guerilla theater.
Freewaves’ founding and executive director Anne Bray discusses how it all came about. “In July 2018, we have a very open space, filled with people who basically own came for the event. What we did this year with similar artists was integrate them into a very mainstream venue, maintain our vulnerability and exposure, and increase our sexual harassment-free zone efforts to protect the artists enough to operate in the crazy Hollywood Boulevard scene.”
Both events are an outgrowth of the organization’s Dis…Miss public visual art experience, which began in 2016. “In the fall of that year we commissioned five different video makers to do material for the LA Metro bus system. But we had barely gotten it on the bus when the TV system for riders ended; they weren’t making enough money on it and they stopped it. That had given us exciting, engaging access to more than a million riders a day, with half of them being women. We did it in Spanish and English, and we presented feminist ideas geared to bus riders, but then that system closed.”
So, the organization began to think about other ways to get videos and information out into the world. “Besides the internet, it’s really hard to do that,” Bray remarks.
Freewaves itself started as a video art organization in 1989. “It’s always been about how we engage the public, whether it’s through public access TV or the internet, or projects out on the street,” she relates. “In 2008, we also had a five day festival in some 60 stores near LACE, which was an insane endeavor,” she laughs.
Bray says that the original focus of Freewaves to start a collective effort to get artists and curators interested in video art to know each other and operate together. “It’s difficult to work in isolation and do art in an alternative medium. We were all over the county. Today we have a huge archive online at freewaves.org, and we got all the way up to international works. We’re trying to connect the immigrant community with their own country and work thematically so that we are not ethnically isolated and estranged,” she says.
The live performance aspect started at 2018 at the state park. “I do performance art myself, and now video is very integrated as an experience, and we are trying to deal with more difficult topics in regard to gender issues. So, experiencing them in live form may be more informative and compelling,” she notes.
From a viewer’s perspective, that may well be the case. Bray explains that there are two ideas as to what’s next for Freewaves that are percolating currently. “I would like to do another night-performance program and focus on masculinity, and make it plural, the way we did genders this time. I would love to do it in a very public venue like Grand Park. The other idea is to set up public dialogs, a kind of round table discussion, among the artists and writers I have been working with over the length of Dis…Miss. It would be great to have everyone be able to meet each other, focus, and get some more depth into some of what the artists are interested in now.”
Currently, the organization is making strong use of a concept Bray came up with in 2016, using small images that can be shown as a slide show or as a stack of postcards. “We have been touring around Los Angeles county and showing those a lot at colleges People in that age of identity formation can choose which image they like the best, and I will give it to you if you answer the question on the back.”
According to Bray “We’ve taken all 1200 of the answers we have so far and had them analyzed by social scientists and turned into inclusive infographics.” At the September 7th event, these were available in the lobby of LACE where some of the many performances for the evening were held.
Returning to the event, Bray says every aspect of the show, from yarn art that beautifully and evocatively bombed trees in the area to stage performances at LACE by visual and performance artist Dakota Noot, and musician Yozmit, performing in Korean and English at the Pizza Café on Hudson Ave., were all exciting. Marsian De Lellis’ photos and Arshia Haq videos in collaboration with Cassils were both on exhibit. Interactive performances on the street by artists such as Reanne Estrada, Reach L.A., Ni Santas, Thinh Nguyen and Christy Roberts Berkowitz may have been the most exciting at all.
“I was really happy with the variety and the intersections, the cross-walks. There were all kinds of different things happening, and we were really trying to get the performing arts groups so that one would run in one direction, and another in the other, and see what happened when they came together. They did backdrops for each other and came together, and that’s exactly what I wanted — and to confuse who was the audience and who was the performer.” She also wanted those watching and participating to “get so confused about gender you just gave up and said ‘I don’t care what gender that is, who that is,’” Bray attests.
Estrada’s pixilated masked-performers, and their anti-surveillance message, Santas’ activist women portraits on poster sticks, and Nguyen’s “peace army” dressed all in white with whistles to scatter and reform, were among the interactive performers Bray mentions. Berkowitz dragged a suitcase up and down the boulevard to see if people would help her out. “It was quite a struggle. She was totally beat at the end of the evening,” Bray attests.
Struggles aside: the event was a rousingly engaging success – for Freewaves, and for the community.