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In Other Los Angeleses: Multicentric Performance Art

Meiling Cheng
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 441
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  • Book Info
    In Other Los Angeleses
    Book Description:

    Performance art and Los Angeles, two subjects spectacularly resistant to definitions, illuminate each other in this searching study by Meiling Cheng. A marginal artistic pursuit by choice as well as necessity, performance art has flourished in and about "multicentric" Los Angeles for nearly four decades, finding its own centers of activity, moving and changing as the margins have reconstituted themselves. The notion of multicentricity serves, somewhat paradoxically, as the unifying motif in Cheng's imaginative views of center and periphery, self and other, and "mainstream" and "marginal" cultures. She analyzes individual artists and performances in detail, bringing her own "center" gracefully and unmistakably into contact with all those others. Without suggesting that her approach is definitive, she offers a way of thinking and talking coherently about particularly elusive, ephemeral artwork. Cheng describes performance art as "an intermedia visual art form that uses theatrical elements in presentation." Performance art, which uses the living body as its central medium, occurs only "here" and only "now." Because it is intentionally volatile, highly adaptable, and often site-specific, with emphasis on audience interaction, context is inseparable from the work itself. When Cheng writes about Suzanne Lacy or Tim Miller, Johanna Went or Oguri and Renzoku, Sacred Naked Nature Girls or osseus labyrint, she is conscious of her role in extending their creative expression. As members of the "virtual audience," readers and viewers of other documentation concerning performance art are arrayed outside the center represented by a given artist and the circle represented by the immediate witnesses to a performance, but all may entertain what Cheng calls a conceptual ownership of the work. A person who reads about a performance, she says, may feel more affected by this virtual encounter than a person who has seen it live, and may reimagine it as a "prosthetic performance." Cheng's writing draws us into the many centers where a vibrant contemporary art phenomenon and a fascinating urban environment interact.Published in association with the Southern California Studies Center at the University of Southern California

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93660-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxi-xxxiv)
  6. 1 Inscribing Multicentricity Performing Other Los Angeleses
    (pp. 1-65)

    In the late 1960s the Los Angeles painter Sam Francis produced a series of mural-size works uniformly namedUntitled (Edge Painting),[year of production].¹ These paintings suggest a way of observing contemporary Los Angeles cultures from the multiple perceptual centers of the edge. They also prefigure the profusion of luminous performances that first happened in the margins and remained “on edge.”²

    In a typicalEdge Paintingconfiguration the canvas is largely painted white, with stripes of vivid colors—red, blue, yellow, green, black—delineating the edge. A palpable tension exists between the central territory of white and its colorful peripheries....

  7. 2 Out of Order Reading, Writing, Performing (in) L.A.
    (pp. 66-92)

    Spring 1998, the Southern California sky was unseasonably overcast by the tail end of El Niño. Cataclysmic predictions regarding this weather fury seemed to have temporarily displaced the vigilance paid to the seismometer. L.A. emerged—no less conspicuously—as a prime site to study performance art.

    The foremost stage was set up at a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in the Frank Gehry–restored barnhouse formerly called the Temporary Contemporary and now known as the Geffen Contemporary, located at the edge of Skid Row and Little Tokyo. From February 8 to May 10, the Geffen Contemporary hosted...

  8. 3 Engendering Other/Selves Suzanne Lacy
    (pp. 93-133)

    Site/Moment: Route 126, 1972.A fantastic spectacle is on display along Route 126 near Valencia, attracting wayward glances from unsuspecting automobile drivers and hesitant rodents. The day before, hardly anyone would have given prolonged thought to a wrecked convertible stalled in an arid landscape next to a rustic highway. The dumped car was merely an unfortunate eyesore not quite camouflaged yet by dust, rust, fallen branches, and dried weeds. But an about-face has occurred: the vehicle has been resuscitated, parodically gendered, and transmuted into an eye-catching creature-sculpture named “Pink Jalopy” (fig. 9). True to her name, Pink Jalopy has an...

  9. 4 Elia Arce A Skin Test and a Tongue Transplant
    (pp. 135-173)

    A naked female figure sits with bent legs in an enlarged, ornamented bird cage (fig. 15). Motionless, her elbows touch the edge of the cage, her head resting on one of her bent arms; her face and most of her upper torso are hidden by her dark cascading hair. A label attached to the cage reads, “FEED ME.” A man tentatively approaches the cage, puts a beer bottle on the ground, and quickly walks away. More offerings follow: candy bars, flowers, chewing gum, fruit, an avocado. Someone opens the cage door and puts a glass of water inside. Some people...

  10. 5 A Hetero-locus in Process Self Performances at Highways
    (pp. 174-233)

    On the floor of a public elevator lies a strange package, fully wrapped in a floral-patterned batik crisscrossed by ropes. The package looks suspiciously like a human figure, though there is no external sign to verify its status. What is it? Why is it here? Who put it here? For whom is it waiting? Does it have permission to be here? Has the proper authority been notified? If the figure is a human body, is it alive or dead, breathing or rotting away? Is it hungry, angry, sick, in pain? Can it talk, move, make sound? During the twenty-four hours...

  11. 6 What’s in a Name? Marking Sacred Naked Nature Girls
    (pp. 235-272)

    In a narrative about their company history, the Sacred Naked Nature Girls, four women artists who have formed a triracial and multiethnic ensemble in L.A., describe an incident that may endure as the mythic origin of their collaboration: “The women officially christened their group one morning at Zuma Beach, CA, when they spontaneously shed their clothes during an improvisation at the water’s edge.”¹ The artists frame the incident as the primal scene for their ensemble. Suddenly, as if by magic, their individual bodies were reborn into one mobile, sentient, and tactile organism named Sacred Naked Nature Girls (fig. 30).


  12. 7 Kinesthetic Transmutation of Theatricality Consuming Art Performances
    (pp. 273-350)

    On the plate that ends all the plates gathered in this book, I give offerings that join sacrifice with celebration—the sacrifice of logic and the celebration of sensibilities; the sacrifice of empirical verification and the celebration of perceptual immersion; the sacrifice of historicity and the celebration of fluctuating intensities. I traverse a zone of negotiations between knowing and being, between perceiving and slipping half-awake through time; my words stagger from their desire to articulate coherent responses to their resigned participation in sentient confluence. I enter a terrain of indeterminate forms where excess spills into economy and incompatible categories cavort...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 351-352)

    A BEAUTIFUL MAN IN A TAILORED JACKET SITS ON A CURB. HE WAITS FOR THE sunset. While waiting, out of tedium and good habit, he pokes out his right eyeball and wipes it carefully with a flannel cloth. He examines the eyeball to make sure that it’s immaculate and turns it sideways to watch himself cleaning the ears. That done, he returns the eyeball to the socket and begins brushing his false teeth—one by one. That done, he twists his left arm down from its joint, dusts the joint and oils it before he puts the arm back to...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 353-392)
  15. Index
    (pp. 393-407)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 408-408)