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