Multidisciplinary, collaborative, interactive exhibitions have the potential to be hazardous. Even those of us who are contemporary art world regulars tend to feel uncomfortable about touching artwork and we don’t always like to be asked to read a pamphlet or listen to a recording when we came to look. We, a cleverly energetic exhibition at Lizabeth Oliveria, Gallery, takes this problem on with gusto.
Curated by Jen Lui, We includes work by nine international artist collectives. The exhibition valiantly tries to be more than an exhibition, but it doesn’t try so hard that it denies the restrictions of the gallery dynamic. It meets its audiences on a variety of levels—the space is inviting to those who would rather just look but it eagerly anticipates those who will pick up the pamphlets and put on the headphones.
The L.A. based group OJO drove a 1979 Corolla into the gallery on opening night, playing eerie music from inside the small car and using a smoke machine to add to the ambience. Now the car and its accompanying soundtrack make for a sturdy anchor, ensuring that everyone who walks through the door knows that this exhibition is trying to do something a little different.
To the left of the Corolla, an erratically lettered sign reads On Produceability. The installation below it resembles a lush, off-kilter novelty store, with a shimmering teal blanket hanging seductively from the wall and a shrine-like wooden box filled with ephemeral trifles. A handful of the objects in the installation are actually priced to sell, like the T-shirts and temporary tattoos. A collaboration between the Dusseldorf group Nuans and the Istanbul based Alti Aylik, On Produceability takes a lighthearted but earnest stab at cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary unity, endeavoring to change the way artists and producers interact.
With its movie posters, archives, reading stools, monitors, and temporary tattoos, We is a haven for counter-culture enthusiasts. Its inclusive vibe, like a distilled contemporary version of Black Mountain College in its heyday, suggests that making culture—generating objects, interactions and ideas in hopes of changing the way people think—is still a viable project for artists, despite any post-post-modern malaise.
A crisp c-print lying on a crate in the main gallery highlights a discussion of exhibition narration: “There is still the insistence in the impossibility of escaping certain narrative parameters.” To the extent that they can, the artists in We try to evade those parameters—they’re giving their audiences something to do and they’re making work that functions outside of the “art object” context. But since they embrace the exhibition format, its viewer-looks-at-object storyline and all, they avoid alienating audiences as they launch their ideas out into the world.
(Images from top to bottom: We, installation view, 2008, Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; OJO, Love Letter, 2008, 1979 corola, smoke machine, speakers, audio cd, paper)