Interval/Habitat at Human Resources, Los Angeles
Los Angeles has been a buzz with performance during the summer of 2013. Perform Chinatown and Confusion is Sex #3 were full of activity, providing an open space for finding small gems amongst a sea of imperfect, raw performative energy. Following suit in Los Angeles’ performance momentum, Human Resources’ August exhibition Interval/Habitat by Byron Westbrook opened the exhibition space as a gallery to be used as an opportunity for exploration.
The somewhat overwhelming large main exhibition space of Human Resources can seem like an asset or a hindrance depending on how a particular artist tackles it, deciding how to either fill or play against its very formidable white cube form. Westbrook left the space almost untouched, with the exception of adding banks of theatrical lighting instruments and speakers along the bottom of the four walls. These tools became the key elements used to construct multiple imagined spaces through the choreographed synchronization of varying light and sound scenarios within the highly reverberant space.
With a slim array of instruments consisting of a central spot pointed on the ground, long banks of lights along each wall illuminating the towering walls of the space, and a set of corner lights pointed both up the corner and toward the center of the room, Westbrook created scenes and directed attention with light allowing the soundscape to develop location and emotion. In Interval/Habitat murmurs in the background form an urban space of streets and transit and abstract drones take on the essence of an accordion while a lonely spot hits the middle of the room creating the images of an absent musical performance. Using the language of film with long dissolves and hard cuts, the space expands and contracts from full illumination to total darkness. Each scene is several minutes and leaves the viewers to be as active or passive as they choose. Though the notation is similar, calling the installation a film without images simplifies Westbrook’s work too much. It would be equally problematic to call this a Light and Space piece with sound, or a experimental sound work with a light display. Interval/Habitat had incredible presence in the large, empty gallery and moved viewers through multiple imagined environments in a short amount of time. Seemingly non-sequential, the weakness of the work is that it loops (or reuses elements) too quickly allowing viewers to acknowledge the technological apparatus of the work as opposed to being lost within it.
Westbrook envisioned the space as one of potential waiting to be activated by individual viewers as well as pre-planned actions. And much like Perform Chinatown and Confusion is Sex #3, results varied within the actions that I had the opportunity to see. Samuel Fisher and Gabriel Marantz’s hour-long dance based adaptation of the performance exercise Viewpoints made the space come to life, pushing the pops and hisses of light and sound into an open ended work that had tones of exploring power and cooperation. Another evening focusing more on audio based interpretation allowed Casey Anderson to perform a work entitled The Argument, a reading by four performers presented as a nervous round robin of written text and listening. A later performance that evening seemed to hint at the direction of improvisation, though I can not say for sure as the intensely reverberant space and the levels of the amplification of the additional instruments created a sound level too great for my already sonically damaged ears to endure.
Even within the small sampling of performances that I had the opportunity to see, there were hits and misses and this was exciting, if demanding. With improvisational work it is hard to know what will make sense and what will fall flat unless actually performed within the space itself, which is generally not available until exhibition is mounted. As a viewer, I want the opportunity to see more more performances like Samuel Fisher and Gabriel Marantz’s, where the mutual floor space for audience and the dancers pushed me to lose myself in the abstracted narrative. Not all performances will command the space nearly as interestingly, but having the opportunity for play and exploration is worth the occasional miss. However this willingness to see potential flops does not hold true for all viewers.
Westbrook’s work, successful without additions, became more interesting with the option of collaborative play. The exhibition and public engagements series lasted a short period of two weeks and was organized in collaboration with curator Chiara Giovando and the range of scheduled participants. In the future, it will be interesting to see how Westbrook’s work develops and is understood as an exhibition of a longer duration. This will allow the public time to understand and participate in the space in a collaborative and a truly unplanned way, in a way that the short duration of Interval/Habitat may not have fully realized.
Byron Westbrook, Interval/Habitat, Human Resources, Los Angeles, August 15-28, 2013