LOS ANGELES — Most artist retrospectives occur decades after an artist’s career really takes off, once their name has been recognized in the annals of art world lore. But long time collaborators Chan and Mann — Audrey Chan and Elana Mann, respectively — have organized their own retrospective to recognize their “seven year itch” of collaboration and “historicize now.”
Dubbed Chann & Mhann, it’s a tongue-in-cheek retrospective amidst the context of Pacific Standard Time, the serious California art retrospective going on right now in Los Angeles, for tongue-in-cheek work that looks at serious issues.
Take “Soul Satisfaction,” a 2005 performance at the California Institute of Arts, where Chan and Mann perform as much for their audience as for themselves, pumping each other up and building each other’s confidence early in their artistic careers. “Remember that time you were really embarrassed,” asks Chan. “We like to use a different word for talking about those embarrassing moments. And that word is … [and here Mann joins in] licorice.” After walking through some visualizations where they describe the licorice as a confining net, Mann declares, “And all you have to do to break that net is to move a little bit.”
Their skill at provocative performance shows through in their 2012 “Myths of Rape,” an opening night performance at the LA Art Show that recreated a 1970s performance by Leslie Labowitz-Starus and Suzanne Lacy in collaboration with the original artists. Chan and Mann drew inspiration from the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement, with a more direct, interactive performance that situated the myth signs, which open to reveal facts that challenge the myths, on the bodies of the male and female performers. The performers themselves included volunteers from sexual assault survivor support groups around the city. “Most had never done performance art before,” Chan told me.
Also on view are artifacts from “A MANNdate for CHANge“, a costumed performance in which Chan and Mann play “Sally Sunshine and Debbie Downer” to debate the Obama candidacy in 2008. And the interactive painting “Chan & Mann’s New Fantasy,” where anyone can picture themselves as the artists, with Mann tweaking Chan’s nipple. The work evokes a number of art historical references, from the late 16th C. painting of Gabrielle d’Estrées to Frida Kahlo’s “The Two Fridas” (1939).
As the two primary organizers of the College Art Association Conference’s recent Feminist Art Project symposium at MOCA, Chan and Mann’s work comes from a deep understanding of feminist art and concerns about its future, with more than a touch of oddball humor that puts a smile on the face.
The “Asian Jew Tablescape and Misfortune Cookies,” a custom installation reminiscent of Judy Chicago’s iconic “Dinner Party,” features red lanterns and Stars of David recognizing famous Chinese and Jewish women, and a series of images of historic interactions between Jewish and Chinese culture, like a photo of LA’s Genghis Cohen restaurant.
My favorite part was the misfortune cookies, custom-made cookies with Yiddish sayings. “Born a schlemiel, die a schlemiel,” said mine. “Oy vey,” I told myself, and I took the advice to heart.
Chann and Mhann: A Historical Retrospective, 2005-2012 runs till this Thursday at Elephant Art Space (3325 Division Street, Glassell Park, Los Angeles)