LOS ANGELES — Driving or walking in Los Angeles can be a disorienting exercise. Side roads lead to gated communities, sidewalks disappear into the driveways of residential cul-de-sacs, and outdoor malls, the city’s most visible quasi-public space, perform civic and commercial functions unlike those of parks and libraries.
Open To The Public, now showing at VACANCY, presents works that recreate some of the city’s most familiar physical features related to purposes of security, surveillance, and mobility. While Chris Burden’s assemblage of street lights at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art may bring a kind of whimsy to Los Angeles urbanism, the works here, by artists Brody Albert and Kaeleen Wescoat-O’Neill, create the opposite effect — a literal-mindedness that answers the question of how to represent the city by simulating some of its smallest, most banal yet salient, features.
Past the gallery entrance is a set of two folding security fences, ubiquitous throughout the city after business hours. Contrary to the show’s title, the fully articulated fence, made of fiberboard and dyed red, blocks access to the rest of the gallery, and if not for the careful instructions given by a gallerist on the other side, the show’s terminus could have been the double fencing. Front- and rear-facing TV screens installed by the front window play a film, “Driving in Los Angeles: The Fine Art of the Gesture” (2015), which humorously demonstrates hand signals communicating the varied emotions of city motorists.
Some of these gestures, like “Slow-ass-whale” and “I have to pee,” seem to be newly invented, while others (“The fuck?”) are more commonly used. For Angelenos who spend much of their time in cars, hand signals make possible nonverbal forms of communication that go beyond the utilitarian functions of the car horn or turning signal. They are a means of wide-ranging human expression in the otherwise dehumanizing and insulated space of the road, performed at a traffic stop or at the velocity of a moving vehicle. From the gallery, the film plays throughout the duration of the show, reaching across private and public space to passing motorists or pedestrians.
Access to the rest of the gallery requires exiting through the front door and turning the corner of the building to reach another entrance adjacent to the back lot. Entry through the rear door leads to the other side of the red fencing, where three other works seem to blend in with the gallery space. Several gum blots on the floor comprise “Anti-slip Gum” (2015), meticulous reproductions of black gum stains found near the busy intersection of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. The stains leave a trace of pedestrian activity not otherwise documented or encouraged by the city streets, and in the context of the gallery, they make reference to the safety tape used to police the boundaries of an artwork, how far a body can go before risking harm to an artwork or private property.
On a computer screen, a browser is opened to the gallery’s website, also part of the show. A succession of Google Maps street views simulate transit through several of the city’s tunnels by car, a composite of streets that run endlessly in cinematic time and with the kind of geographic liberties documented in Thom Andersen’s film essay Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003). Here too art imitates Los Angeles, an ersatz version of the city in which movement and mobility are restricted or abetted by physical barriers.
The last work in the show, a set of embossed prints called “Double Doors” (2015), depicts the outlines of a front door and transom window, the kind commonly found in residential homes. The double-sided prints suggest interior and exterior space, although whether the viewer is positioned inside or outside of the door depends on their access to the dream of the single-family home. So much of Los Angeles geography is characterized by fences, doors, and distance, to keep some of us in and others out. They make its geography inimical to the 21st century flâneur, who is confronted by a city fragmented by intrusions of the public and private.
Open To The Public disturbs the allowances of public and private space by transposing the security features of the city into the gallery. The artworks proscribe access to the space by literally functioning as physical barrier, and expand access by making some parts visible from the road or sidewalk. In this way, the show is as disorienting and easy to miss as the city experienced from the inside of a moving car.
Open To The Public continues at VACANCY (2524 1/2 James M. Wood Boulevard, Los Angeles) through November 28.