Roaring Good Fun Lights Up the LA Zoo

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Now through January 8th, join the roar and wonder of lights at L.A. Zoo Lights. The Los Angeles Zoo’s now-traditional, always dazzling holiday offering is a justifiably popular replacement for the DWP Holiday Light Festival, a drive through that once called Griffith Park home.

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The Zoo display is a delightful crowd pleaser, with a cheerful color palette, a rain forest canopy, recycled water bottles recreated as illuminated frogs – all fantastic fun for all ages. Adults, babies in strollers – grab a churro or a hot chocolate or cocktail and enjoy.

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Silver birds soar through one of our favorite sections, all purple lights and shimmering mirrored disco balls.

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Flamingos as lithe as pink musical notes hop; neon meerkats dazzle.

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Entering along a path lit by large glowing holiday ornaments sets the stage for what’s to come, an animal-centric, whimsical display of illuminated critters.

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In a new and more easily viewable location this year are crowd-favorites like elephant statues illuminated with a changing pattern of designs from Christmas sweaters to sparkling lights to tribal markings. Santa and his live reindeer continue to charm children.

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Below, LAIR

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The now-open LAIR reptile house makes a fascinating stop and a good way to step out of chilly night air. Friendly docents explain what these nocturnal critters do.

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Around the corner an even more spectacular water and light show this year runs in fifteen minute intervals, creating glowing surreal images out of the mist.

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Palm trees become multi-colored and fanciful, a parade of Christmas trees vies for attention with alligators and rhinos, and there are tunnels of lights leading into and out of the Hollywood scene that concludes the exhibit, with a Hollywood-premiere red carpet, and illuminated images of the Hollywood Bowl, freeways, and Capitol records.

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Two hours allows for a leisurely look and a quick cup of cocoa, stay longer to visit Santa.

L.A. Zoo Lights runs 7 days a week through January 8th, from 6 to 10 p.m. , closed December 24 and 25. Don’t miss the Family New Year’s Eve celebration, with express entry to L.A. Zoo Lights, a dinner buffet with soft drinks and dessert, a carousel ride, games, DJ dance party, and live broadcast of the Times Square ball drop.

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More details and tickets can be found here. The L.A. Zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Dr. in Los Angeles.

  • Genie Davis; photos Genie Davis, Jack Burke

Afterfear Comes Beauty

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“If we can’t banish our fears, we must learn to live among their ghosts.”               – Dani Dodge

Installation artist Dani Dodge has done it again, taking on the enormity of human emotion and shaping it into an art form.  Her Afterfear, now at HB Punto Experimental in San Diego, is a revelation in its beauty, and a passionate extension of Dodge’s work.

“The exhibition is directly related to Peeled & Raw, an installation I created originally at LA Artcore in December 2015, and then brought back for an encore at my studio during the April 2016 Brewery Artwalk. The installation encouraged people to purge their fears by tearing the wallpaper from the walls, and writing their fears upon the scraps,” Dodge explains.

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The catalyst for Dodge to create that piece was the mass shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the aftermath of that attack.

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“I was tapping into the material’s metaphorical potential as both a critique of Western values as well as an opportunity to peel it back. At the end of each show, I burned the fears in a symbolic exorcism,” Dodge relates.

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Afterfear goes even bigger. Gallery owner Hugo Heredia Barrera gave Dodge the ultimate “canvas” – an entire gallery for her to fill.

“Rather than making a single installation, I created a three-part story. In Part 1 I deal with my own fear, in Part 2, I deal with global fear, and then in Part 3, I deal with how the inability to rid ourselves of fear leads us to be forever haunted.”

One of the things that is the most fascinating about Dodge’s work is her ability to seamlessly meld deep meanings with installations that are simply gorgeous to look at. Like all the best art, her work illuminates; however it can also simply be viewed as a sculptural, immersive work that is pleasing to the eye. There is a trick and a gift to doing this: appealing to a visual aesthetic that a viewer can easily tap into, while delving deep into her own, and the viewer’s psyche.

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“As people walk into the gallery, the first thing they see is the results of me facing my own fears. Ever since 2003 when I covered the war in Iraq as a journalist, I have had a fear of the sound of explosions and guns,” she attests.

Dodge went to the desert to confront this fear. “The desert is a mystical and inspiring place for me. For all appearances it is a place that is dead, but you look intently and you see life teeming under your feet and all around you. It always reminds me to look beyond the surface of not only what I see, but what I say with my art. To understand that even if people don’t look beneath the surface, that all the work that goes into the invisible layers adds to the richness of the ultimate expression.”

So it felt natural and right to Dodge to use the desert as the location to mine the fears in her own heart.

“The Fourth of July is difficult for me because of the anxiety caused by the noise of the fireworks. As part of this exhibition where I deal with other people’s fears, I figured it was only fair to face with my own. I lit the fuse on firecrackers in a remote desert area to create art for the show. The video is here: https://vimeo.com/194511343 It was empowering. And I loved using the source of my fear to create something beautiful.”

Dodge was originally invited to cover the Iraq invasion after the assignment was turned down by a reporter not eager to be on the front lines. Unlike her peer,  she didn’t hesitate to take the assignment. But she felt her stories of calamity, bravery, and loss only scratched the surface of the war, and she was compelled to turn to the creation of art.  The tales she tells now through her installations are powerful indeed, visceral, and comprehensive. Starting the Afterfear exhibition with her own fear is brave and bold; it immediately creates a connection with viewers. Who has not been afraid of something? Who does not feel fear?

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“As people continue into the gallery, the come to a low wall, built with more than 100 glass bricks with the ashes of the fears burned from Peeled & Raw suspended inside them. The wall is translucent. Some of the bricks are cloudy white, some are crisp and clear and the ashes distinctly visible,” Dodge reveals.

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This is such an incredibly moving section of Afterfear.  The idea of containing one’s fear, destroying it yet retaining its aftermath, is potent. But it is the image itself that resonates. If the viewer did not know what he or she was seeing, it would be just as strong. The bricks glow. They are ice, they are X-rays of the human spirit, vessels for passing down, for remembering, for separating. They are the DNA of human nature, captured and preserved as if they represented a prehistoric creature caught in amber.

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“As gallery visitors turn the corner into the main room the simplicity of the first two parts of the exhibit are lost in a cacophony. I created the wallpapered effect in Peeled & Raw by covering 8 x 4 foot panels with about six layers of wallpaper, starting with wallpaper from the 1940s and ‘50s, and using current wallpaper as the final layer. So as people tore the wallpaper to write their fears upon it, they revealed earlier and earlier vintages of wallpaper, and created a time-based work of art,” Dodge explains.

When Peeled & Raw opened, the artist said “We’ve covered up beauty by letting our fears run amuck instead of dealing with issues in positive ways.”

In today’s politically inspired emotional context, this is truer than ever. And Dodge has not only transformed the panels she utilized in that previous exhibition, she has mutated the fear itself into something gestational, something from which things grow – in some cases good things.

“I took those panels and painted them to enhance the designs created through the process of people tearing, but also used spray-paint to desecrate them simultaneously. The pieces now are the walls in the back gallery, or Part 3 of the show,” Dodge relates.

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“Then, within the room I piled 13 totems, each one relating to previous installations I had done where people shared secrets, dreams, burdens or sins with me. The predominant material of each of the totems is Styrofoam, recycled from packing boxes. As I created it, what I had in mind was a place where the past doesn’t die, such as a grandmother’s home where mementos from the 30s are crowded together with the image of their newest great granddaughter on a digital photo frame. At the opening, one person remarked to me that they were ‘experience embedded in object.’ Another person related that they reminded her of ancient ruins.”

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Viewers – and it would be a mistake, perhaps, to call those who visit the exhibition merely viewers, participants is perhaps more apt – pick their way through the totems, some as tall as eight feet, to get to a blank wall.

“There they can write what haunts them on wallpaper, and glue it to the wall face down – making their own specter into a communal work of art,” Dodge reveals.

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In short, the artist is helping us to learn to live among the ghosts of our fears.

Interestingly, when people responded with their fears during Dodge’s Peeled & Raw,  particularly during the shows April 2016 revival, many had fears of the future. “At least two dozen wrote Donald Trump. And one wrote Hillary Clinton,” Dodge says.

“I burned those fears of a certain presidential candidate, along with fears of death, rape, injustice and snakes. I made glass bricks and suspended the ashes inside. My intent was to build a wall that was unlike Trump’s proposed border wall; it would be a wall we could see through, past our fears incinerated within. We could walk around the wall to find hope and joy and each other.”

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The poetry in what Dodge says is fully expressed in her art. That is perhaps one of the most striking things about this artist’s work: it is as large scale, in a visual sense, as a novel is to the written word, yet what one takes away from her installation is a kind of emotional haiku. It is a shorthand for life. Nothing more or less.

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“My art is not overtly political. It is about showing people their better selves by helping them to confront their secrets and emotions. Now more than ever, that is important for our country. This election has torn us apart. Our civil liberties face assault. The value of basic human dignity has taken a nose dive,” she asserts. “Now is the time for art to elevate, to inspire, to hold up a mirror to our country and shout, ‘Look at yourself. Is this who you really want to be?'”

Dodge has recently received a number of well-deserved accolades.
In 2016 Americans for the Arts named her installation CONFESS as one of the previous year’s outstanding public arts projects. CONFESS debuted at L.A. Pride in West Hollywood, CA, in 2015.

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“I sat in a confessional and allowed participants to share their worst sins with me. The result was not sacramental grace but a twisted penance and an anonymous typed note that detailed each transgression on a gold piece of paper. Thus absolved, at least in the eyes of art, confessors could move forward unburdened,” Dodge states. “The confession booth was within a 20-foot-square space with walls on three sides covered by black fabric. As the weekend went forward, the walls went from black to gold with people’s deepest sins revealed.”

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Dodge was also honored with two of ArtSlant’s 2016 juried winner awards, one for the installation Night Clouds, above, the other for the new media of Losing Perspective.  

“The accolades are great, but for me, success is about connection, when an artwork reaches people emotionally and mentally.”

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On Facebook Kelly Brumfield-Woods remarked about Afterfear:  “I walked away realizing we all have the same fears and it strangely made me happy.”

As Brumfield-Woods aptly notes, there is something about Dodge’s work that not only tackles our fears, but allows us to embrace them, and reveals that we are all, each of us, vessels, which, after fear, contain beauty. And that does indeed make one strangely happy.

Next up for Dodge:

January 27-29, 2017: Exhibiting at stARTup Fair LA, in Los Angeles.

April 2017: Solo show New Museum Los Gatos, in Los Gatos, California.

June 2017: Solo show MOAH: Cedar in Lancaster, California.

October 2017: Solo show A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.

Afterfear runs through February 11th at HB Punto Experimental

The gallery is located at 2151 Logan Ave Section B, San Diego, California 92113

 

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Courtesy of the Artist; Peeled & Raw, Jack Burke

 

 

Sacred Landscapes: The art of Hung Viet Nguyen

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Tish Laemmle’s Art in the Arthouse series places beautifully curated art exhibits in Laemmle theater space. Running through December at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, her current exhibition, Sacred Landscapes is a visionary gallery show that’s simply not to be missed.

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Artist Hung Viet Nguyen‘s mosaic-like paintings play like a precise and beautiful series of dreams. Each work has a hush about them, a reverence for nature and beauty that makes the show’s title all the more true – this is a spiritual, sacred experience. The works shine like jewels as they reach into the depth of Nguyen’s experience, which becomes a piece of each viewer’s experience, too.

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Born in Vietnam, the Los Angeles-based Nguyen once studied biology in Saigon, but moving to the U.S., he worked as an illustrator, graphic artist, and designer before following his muse full time into a world that’s magical, mythical, and mysterious. His finely textured oil works evoke Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese scroll paintings, and perhaps a touch of Van Gogh fused with David Hockney.

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But the overall these masterful works are uniquely Nguyen’s, as complex as they are beautiful, as lyrical and light-seeped as they are deep.

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“Mostly nature draws me to create art. I don’t do plein-air painting anymore, what I do is I go hiking to an area and I try to feel what I see. Then, I try to bring my feeling from hiking into the picture. I sometimes take a photograph and bring that home, but mostly I paint from my memory or my imagination,” Nguyen relates.

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As to his process, he notes “I do planning for a little control, but during the process of painting things happen that I can’t control. There is a certain edge of mystery to it even for myself. There is something out of control in my art; my art work has its own life.”

That it does, a life that soars with color, a life that leads viewers into a world that’s rich and nuanced, moving, elegaic. You may have been there before, you may have been there in another life, or within a dream. The paintings carry you along on a journey to a place that is beyond the ordinary, beyond the defined.

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“My skies used to be simpler, with more pastel colors, but the color has become darker recently. I was thinking perhaps I’ve spent more time and put more layers into the color and my technique got better,” he says modestly. “The way that I work is almost like sculpting the piece. I have to wait for each of many layers to dry. ”

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As to his subjects, Nguyen explains “I travel a lot. I don’t pick a particular place in my paintings, I let it all come back to me, I combine them, the places that I’ve been.”

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Whether we are looking at beautifully created images of an “Ancient Pine” – based on trees Nguyen has come to know and love in the Bristle Cone Pine Forest – or spectacular seascapes, landscapes, or his wonderful images of birth, death, and the life cycle in his “Cruelly-Go-Round” series, the overriding sensation of seeing Nguyen’s work is of discovering treasures. Sacred treasures. It is, without being overly religious, a blessing to see these works, a benediction riven with the vital sweep of a karmic life force.

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Sacred Landscapes is an exhibition to savor and enjoy, and it is appropriate to see the works in the gallery space at the Monica Film Center. Each piece is its own, highly cinematic world. And if, while at the gallery space, you’re moved to take in a film, you’ll find another glimpse at Nguyen’s work, in the form of a short trailer the artist created. The trailer plays before each feature selection.

 

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The Laemmle Monica Film Center is located at 1332 2nd St, Santa Monica,  and there’s free city parking directly across the street.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Genie Davis

A New Kind of “Drive-In” Movie: Site-Specific Billboard Installations on Sunset Strip

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Driving down the Sunset Strip, the billboards have always been eye-catching, featuring product advertisements, premiering Hollywood films, even the iconic self-homage of Angelyne. But the City of West Hollywood has taken Sunset Strip billboards to a new level with their site-specific digital billboard project, part of a continuing partnership with curator Jessica Rich and their “Art on the Outside” program.

Through the program, which provides an ongoing initiative to present original and experimental visual content, viewers will find two fiveting films, Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations)” and Basma Alsharif’s take on “Democracy.”

These outdoor showings are made possible through an agreement between the City of West Hollywood and the owners of the screens. Featuring 13 minutes of artistic content each hour, both sites are curated with Jessica Rich through the IF Innovation Foundation Los Angeles, a new non-profit arts organization helmed by IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg.

Both films screen through December 31st, and IFLA plans to continue an artistic vision for both locations after that date, seeking to place “remarkable time-based work in the cityscape…to support experimental interventions that respond to the complexities of urban space.” IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg strongly believes that artists have the ability to occupy, contest, and play with the boundaries and use of public space, challenging preconceived ideas about what art is and where it belongs. “By placing provocative work along the most traveled thoroughfare in Los Angeles, there is a far-reaching impact on viewers across the city.”

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Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations) is viewed on tandem, 2-channel digital billboard screens at 9039 Sunset Blvd., on the facade of the 1OAK nightclub. O’Daniel is a visual artist and filmmaker who works across sound, narrative, sculpture, installation, and performance platforms.

Here, her work is made up of a series of eight separate 64-second videos commissioned by IFLA for this Art on the Outside project. The films play on both screens simultaneously, in tandem, and in various combinations.

The works are excerpts from O’Daniel’s riveting feature film project, “The Tuba Thieves,” which was created following a series of tuba robberies in Los Angeles schools. The film connects the story of a deaf drummer with that of the students, band directors, and larger school communities who are forced to accept missing sound following the tuba thefts. O’Daniel is herself hearing-impaired, and she believes that because of this, her own mind fills in hearing gaps when they occur. While she has experienced frustrations, she’s also discovered a supreme sensitivity to sound. Her original film plays on a conceptual audio score, and converges her private experiences and performed sequences into one narrative.

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The film (still, above) is composed of portraits of music and silence in Los Angeles and beyond, interrupted by fictionalized re-enactments of two historic concerts: the 1952 premiere of John Cage’s 4’33” at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, N.Y., and a 1979 punk concert hosted by Bruce Conner at The Deaf Club in San Francisco. O’Daniel commissioned musical scores by three composers and used these to create a narrative structure through the process of deep listening.

The filmmaker is excited about the City of West Hollywood billboard project, this new reconceptualization of her story, and its piecemeal presentation. “I love the way this non-linear experience of a linear narrative explodes normal viewing patterns,” she says.

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The Los Angeles-based artist, above, is a part of the performance series “In Real Life” at the Hammer Museum, and recently presented her “Centennial Marching Band Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent,” a collaborative performance with the Compton-based Centennial High School Marching Band at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.

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A few blocks away at 8410 Sunset Blvd., viewers can take in “Democracy” by Basma Alsharif on the 2-channel digital billboard screens. This work is made up of two HD digital motion videos that are each three minutes long.

Alsharif’s work centers on the human condition, shifting geopolitical landscapes, natural environments, and history – “Democracy” is no exception, according to curator Rich. “Like landing on the moon – democracy – a word coined in 5th century Athens – is an icon,” she states. “This piece is a gesture towards undoing icons linked to ideas we have held onto for too long… at a moment when sea changes are impending. In this fraught political climate, universal truths transcend geography and ideology.” Alsharif’s work raises age-old questions about freedom and its modern manifestation, according to Rich. “Her fearless world view is unwavering.”

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Like O’Daniel, Alsharif,  above, is based in Los Angeles. As a visual artist she uses moving and still images, sound, and language to explore the anonymous individual in relation to political history and collective memory. Born in Kuwait, she recently received a jury prize at the Sharjah Biennial 9; the Marion MacMahon award at Images; and was awarded the Marcelino Botin Visual Arts grant. Her work transcends the boundaries between political and experimental filmmaking, delving deeply into the rifts between perception, reality, and representation in her work.

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These stunningly affecting installations – and their dynamic outdoor presentation – creates an entirely new type of “drive-in movie.” The films are a part of a curatorial collaboration which began in 2015 for the City of West Hollywood. Since that time, public art projects created with Jessica Rich and IFLA have included works by artists Jillian Mayer, John Knuth and Andy Featherston, Cole Sternberg, Amy Jorgenson, Adam Mars, Martine Syms, and Jen Liu. Upcoming installations for 2017 will be announced soon.

For more information, visit http://www.weho.org/residents/arts-and-culture/visual-arts/art-on-the-outside/electronic-billboards-on-sunset-blvd.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: City of West Hollywood