The Sowden House, designed by Lloyd Wright, impressed me right away: its imposing concrete exterior, huge inner courtyard — designed originally to be a theatre and then turned, somewhat controversially, into a pool and entertainment space – and long corridors, passing by sometimes extravagantly designed rooms, were unlike any other place I’d been invited in the past. On this evening it was the Gala for HomeLA, an arts collective responsible for performing experimental work in private spaces, open for one evening, to the public. Though there were many pieces that inspired me throughout the night – the one that knocked my socks off was a video both filmed and then projected in the inner dressing room / bathroom, of the architectural gem. The rectangular room, about 250 square feet, offers a large tub in the center, with a dressing space on one side and a koi fish pond with a seated area on the other.01 February 2020
Over the pond was the projection of a dance piece, by Rebecca Bruno, who moves through the closet, opening and closing a series of matte black drawers and cabinets, in what I recognized as the neurosis of stuff: the unsatisfying search for the self through material things, in this case, clothing. In other moments, she pauses, exploring the surface of a large leather ottoman, as if it might offer something otherworldly and unimagined; a respite perhaps. The figure appears twice at the same time, throughout, heightening the sense of urgency and further suggesting the double life lived by us all – one always searching for something outside to satisfy and one always longing to rest and be at peace. Then the final surrender: a sensuality of the true self, encountered by rolling back on the lounge in the center of the space, heart open, looking back toward the camera. In this moment, the second figure retreats, leaving the person to be, finally, whole. The moment is beautiful, sad and tender, such an unexpected end to the fragmentation of the start.
To watch something in the same spot that it was made is its own version of brilliance. I’ve never experienced such delight in discovery, first to find the video, somewhat hidden in a room on the side of the stage, and then to realize that the place I was sitting was the place in which the dance was originally performed. I felt like all three of us were mashed together: me, the dancer and the person who usually dresses there, all inhabiting the same space. Though I envied the owner of the house initially, for her status and wealth, and then, for her luck at being able to dress in such a pitch perfect place, I grew to be jealous of her relationship to the artist. To be reflected so completely and generously by someone else is usually limited to love relationships or marriage – and here, was proof, that letting an artist into your interior life could do much of the same. This was a kind of portrait I had never before seen.
The black and white film has a Charlie Chaplin like absurdity about it, not only the futility of searching for identity externally but also suggests that the one who is looking so frantically is possibly an apparition, something that might vanish if only you were to be able to come home to your true self. The candlelight below the projection made the image flicker, and the performance happening at the same time, outside the bathroom space, played dramatic music, a soundtrack to what would have otherwise been an ambient soundtrack. The result is a bewitching and haunting reminder of the selves we have or keep hidden that can be found, only in the presence of others.
I was also touched by the vocal performance by Odeya Nini, showcasing her sometimes guttural sometimes lilting practice, that must have warmed and embraced the baby that was growing inside her. She had a cloth wrapped around her stomach to emphasis her bump, and used her eyes to take members of the audience, circled around her, into the intensity of her piece. In talking with the artist after she was done, I mentioned that the popular song she sang at the end, Take Me Home Country Roads, was one of my favorites and she echoed that sentiment, remarking that the feeling of returning home was one that she felt most of us longed for. When I left that night I came back to my apartment with a sense that a feeling of belonging is what, at best, art can strive for and that non-traditional spaces might be the most effective place to explore our own sense of displacement. It was not my own house that I craved, as much as a place in which I can find parts of myself that are new to me but old to the universe. We can not do that alone in a room, or even within just a family unit, but in the context of a community, since in each of us are stored some version of the other with whom we have yet to relate.