“LA is kind of a collage,” artist, musician and newly appointed LAXART board member Kim Gordon observed offhandedly as we stood under Karen Reimer’s massive quilt. The quilt had been pieced together from indigo fabric and backlit to resemble a stained-glass canopy. If the city is a sprawling visual patchwork, its soundtrack is chopped and screwed—slowed to a crawl and distorted by a heady admixture of heat, haze and omnipresent helicopter noise. For LAXART’s 2019 benefit, director Hamza Walker and curator Catherine Taft briefly called our attention back to an earlier, slightly more upbeat sonic landscape while reminding us to keep our ears to the ground.
The ground, in this case, was represented by several (potentially contaminated) fracking sites that audiovisual artist Phil Peters has mic’ed and recorded from beneath. The resulting ambient audio tracks echoed throughout the nonprofit’s four walls, reverberating off Reimer’s overhead installation while Walker described his and Taft’s vision for the coming year. Since 2014, LAXART has occupied a building that formerly housed the iconic recording studio Radio Recorders, which at its peak was considered the premier studio in Los Angeles where tracks by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker were cut. This spare show of two dramatically disparate works marks the first of several that will address the venue’s audio legacy in the coming year. Among them will be a site-specific commission by LA-based artist Nikita Gale, whose work frequently explores the political register of sound, as well as the West Coast premier of writer Hilton Als’s playwriting debut, Lives of the Performers, featuring Sheryl Sutton, who starred in Robert Wilson’s iconic 1970 play Deafman Glance.
After the remarks, all of us walked a few blocks down North Orange to Jeffrey Deitch’s massive LA outpost, where local heroes Jon and Vinny turned out family-style plates of char siu and the beloved staple from their Animal location, a “country style” charred cabbage, while we waited for Zsela to come on. The rising singer-songwriter has become an art world darling of late and also performed at last year’s Frieze LA, but it was the cabbage that carried the evening. Simultaneously sultry and comforting, new and familiar, the dish—which has origins in India but became popular via immigrants in the American South—was an apt choice for an evening celebrating mash-ups old and new.