For whatever many reasons, there is a whole host of altars and shrines and memorials that were never posted here, most, if not all, from LA days. I'd like to post them, even though they will most likely lack much contextualizing details.
This first one is outside of Cha-Cha Lounge, next to mine and Lauren's Silverlake apartment. I think, but can't be sure, that this memorial was in honor of one of the guys who worked in Gus's food truck. He died young, and suddenly.
Belated: I almost didn't notice this faded-paint ghost bike in the dreary dull Burlington afternoon light. It's chained to a tree outside of Radio Bean, with a sprig of fake pink flowers stuck in the frame. According to Radio Bean barista, it's not a memorial to anyone in particular, but the leftovers from a past Day of the Dead bike ride.
Belated post of a memorial on Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park, sent by struggling actress Michelle Halac.
The Starman's star in Hollywood, photo taken by Nate's friend Felischa Marye and sent by Nate.
I had the pleasure of meeting Burlington based artist Toni-Lee Sangastiano yesterday, who spoke with me about meeting with Canadian independent curator Ola Wlusek through her participation in Burlington City Art's Visiting Critics program. Toni-Lee's work (what I saw) ranges from pointed social-commentary installation to colorful, large-scale sideshow banners, but what caught particularly caught my eye (surprise) was her use of Italian street shrine niches in Florence.
Toni-Lee explained to me that she restricted herself to using only items purchased at the European 99-cent store, and made lanterns using Coca-Cola cans and glow sticks. For each altar she installed, she made a corresponding map of its location drawn on marbled paper she made while studying there.
She writes on her website: Misguided Adorations repurposes vacant Italian street shrine alcoves as slyly subversive altars to consumer culture and maps of their locations with Florentine marbling. Created during her sabbatical in Florence, Italy, this photographic series documents Sangastiano’s luminous art-installations created from low cost consumer goods, including soft drink cans transformed with pin-hole tracings and glow-sticks.
Presiding over the front entrance of the Seven Days offices in Burlington is a memorial to a one of the paper's former arts writers, Marc Awodey (pronounced like Audi). Awodey was not just a writer, but a painter, published poet, and, as Seven Days noted in his obituary, a "one-time creator of poetry vending machines that served up tiny verses for quarters" - which the base of this shrine-like construction is modeled after. Awodey wrote about the project in his book 95 Theses: Art and Machine, published in 2004.
The memorial itself was made by Poultney, VT, artist Ruth Hamilton, and is officially titled Marc Awodey Memorial Cabinet. It is at Seven Days by the generosity of collector Mark Waskow, whose "Waskowmium" purports over 12,000 works of contemporary art housed in multiple locations. Hamilton has made two other "cabinets," Peace Cabinet and Day of the Dead Cabinet, as well as the altar-like Goddess Figure - all can be viewed on her website.
In the main compartment of this memorial, Awodey stands reading against a miniature painted backdrop of Church Street, surrounded by his art supplies and easel. There is also an apple tree with an orchard ladder, a cello, and a circus elephant.
Awodey was born in 1960, and graduated with an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1984. He died of a heart attack in October of 2012, at the age of 51.
Spotted on Av du Parc, in honor of a cyclist killed on July 18th, 2013. Read about the ghost bike project here on Wikipedia - which I'm directing you to because ghostbikes.org is down at the moment, and hopefully, hopefully will resurface. You can also see one of my previous posts about ghost bikes here.
Seven Days editor and co-founder Pamela Polston sent these photos of public shrines spotted during her flanerie in France. From left to right: 1) a Mother Theresa niche (creneau? lieu saint? autel?) in Nice 2) little fellow in the "medieval village-turned-mall Saint Paul de Vence" 3) Virgin Mary in unknown location. And 4) in L'Hotel de l'Amphitheatre in Arles, of which she says, "Not exactly a shrine but it might as well be. And that must be the saint of breakfast."
The two-day exhibition An Order included five artists who each made installations responding to the space that used to be Saint Joseph's Providence Orphan Asylum. The show's organizer, Abbey Meaker, has been creating lens-based work that she calls "semi-archaeological" based on her investigations of the former orphanage for approximately three years, which includes an active Facebook group for adults who once lived or worked at St. Joseph's. The participating artists are Meaker, Wylie Garcia, Sarah O'Connell, Rebecca Weisman, and Mary Zompetti.
In the short amount of time I've been back in Vermont, this is the second time that a public arts event allowed me to visit the inside of an otherwise off-limits building - the first was the Moran Plant. An Order let visitors explore a portion of the former orphanage, which operated from 1885 to the early 1980s, and then became a part of Burlington College - before its impending transformation into private housing.
In the giant, high-ceilinged chapel, the five artists created a Last Supper-styled altar tableaux, which to my delight was arranged below a giant rolled screen hung from the ceiling, a presumably coincidental (?) comment on the proximity of different kinds of image-worship. I spoke briefly to Meaker, who said that the entire altar was created using items that the artists had found from around the property.
Amalia Mesa-Bains is an artist and curator, and Professor Emerita at California State University, Monterey Bay. She is known for her altar and altar-like installations, which she began making in 1975. I first encountered her work at the Craft & Folk Art Museum during the exhibition Some Assembly Required, and then again reading Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities.
In fall 2013, Amalia was invited to create a work using the collections of UCLA's Fowler Museum in honor of the institution's 50th anniversary. (The task reminded me in some ways of Eduardo Paolizzi's 1986 Lost Magic Kingdoms exhibition, created with artifacts from the Museum of Mankind.) The resulting piece was New World Wunderkammer, three united cabinets of curiosity representing Africa, the indigenous Americas, and the complex racial mestizaje of the so-called New World.
I recently spoke with Amalia about her practice and her ongoing relationship with altars. I'm very grateful for her generosity in speaking with me.
What were your earliest encounters with altars that you remember?
My mother, Marina Gonzales Mesa, who was educated by Italian nuns in a convent/orphanage outside Los Angeles always had an altar at home for the Virgin Mary in the month of May and my grandmother, Mariana Escobedo Mesa, who always kept an altar on her dresser which included my uncles who died in war, JFK, and the Virgen Guadalupe.
Can you talk about your decision to use the altar-form as a primary element of your work?
In the early years of the Chicano Movement of the late sixties and mid-seventies, artists were enlisted to take on roles in the community around resistance or affirmation. For many of us affirmation included cultural reclamation or reclaiming spiritual traditions such as making altars. The work of building community altars and ofrendas (offerings) was part of the duty of the cultural worker/artist. I was enlisted by community centers like the Galeria de la Raza, the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and the Social Public Resource Center of Venice California and others. For almost 10 years I created community-based altars and ofrendas and then began to innovate them for museum settings.
In keeping my eyes open for altars and altar-like memorials around LA, I often encounter installations that I'm not sure qualify as altars. One time, I stopped to check out a telephone pole that was wrapped with yarn and flowers. In your mind, what makes something an altar as opposed to a pile or accumulation of objects?
These particular sacred sites are called descansos (from descansar - to rest) and signify a place where an actual death occurred, usually from an automobile accident. These spaces are devotional and are often kept up for years by family. These descansos or resting places are different from an ofrenda or offering that is situated in a home or cemetery, or an altar, which is a permanent ongoing record of the family’s history and spiritual beliefs. Also in some places, mainly rural, you will see yard shrines or capillas (little chapels), which constitute a sacred space in public view and function as a blessing of the outdoor space.
In New World Wunderkammer, you seem to collapse the altar and the wunderkammer into a single unit. An altar is associated with the highly personal and the spiritual, often within narratives of colonial violence and racial marginalization, while a wunderkammer is rooted in a European type of collecting that in many ways was meant to establish control over both the natural world and colonized peoples. Can you talk about your vision with New World Wunderkammer, and your understanding of the similarities and differences in the two forms?
In actuality, when Marla Berns of the Fowler first approached me to help them celebrate their 50th anniversary, she asked me to do an altar and I let her know that I had moved away from public altars to more situated spaces such as libraries, laboratories, and gardens with some spiritual components. These forms have allowed me to be more active around my social justice concerns and to develop a method of inquiry. The Wunderkammer is based on a Cabinet of Curiosities form I started when the US Quincentennial was occurring and when so many of the Latino cultural community were enraged at the celebration of ‘Discovery” that disguised a colonial genocide in the Americas.
The New World Wunderkammer was part of this inquiry and allowed me to reflect upon the Mestizaje or mixing of races in the New World when the Spanish decimation of native peoples required the importing of slaves to the Americas. The mixing of Spanish/European, Indigenous and African peoples brought with it collision of cultures and religions and new spiritual practices. The cabinets in the Wunderkammer are arranged with each having a witness or guardian figure in the central niche and objects/artifacts of war, religion and culture. In the lower portions were many of my family histories and practices so that I could insert my own life in the Americas within the narrative. I tried to reintegrate these collected pieces into their own cultural life prior to the colonial enterprise, and the prints I created functioned to heal the loss and displacement of the missing object. The cabinet of the Americas is in the center with the African and Colonial on either side and the vitrines as a sense of the flora and fauna reimagined in the new world. This wunderkammer is not an altar but is a space of spiritual healing for a disrupted world in the aftermath of the Colonial era and also comments on the role of collecting institutions and their objects.
Details from NWW, via the Fowler Museum:
You clearly believe in the capacity for sacredness in objects. What was it like to have access to the Fowler's collection?
The process of the New World Wunderkammer took two years as I visited many times to understand the collections and to decide my selections which then determined the design of the cabinet and the remaining space. It was an emotional, sometimes wrenching, experience with an enormous power of spirit. I consider myself lucky to enter such a world accompanied by my husband, who is African American and helped me to select the pieces for the African cabinet. I still remember when I saw the Nkisi, or African healing figure with nails, and the power of its gaze and I still dream of them. The sacred process of the lower section was driven by my need to heal the space and bring justice to the pieces taken from their home in their original cultural space. The NWW was for me geography of healing and a ceremony of memory.
What makes altars (potentially) subversive?
I once coined a term ‘politicizing spirituality’ when writing about two shows I curated, Ceremony of Memory and Ceremony of Spirit where I looked at artists of the United States whose ancestor reflected the diverse spiritual practices. I think that memory and spirit for people of color are acts of resistance. To never forget our history and to continue our spiritual practices is in of itself subversive. We do not suffer from an absence of memory but from a memory of absence, what we have lost is never far from our memory and our spiritual practices help in the healing of this loss. Memory fosters a resilience that is needed to survive in these times of anti-immigration and discrimination. I believe that creating our sacred spaces will always bring us health and balance.
My friend Matthew Anderson just sent along this short video he and Avery McIntosh made last year in Baja. Watch it:
This is not an altar, but it's worth noting as a billboard advertisement employing altar-like imagery. Last night, I was in the living room while Lauren watched Orange is the New Black and realized it's probably something I would like to watch. Coincidence?
This ghost bike memorial altar comes from frequent contributor Nate Rulf, who spotted it at Hollywood and Harvard a few days ago and reports that his friend "saw a kid get hit on his bike by a car and killed there." I haven't been able to find further details on a Hollywood bicycle death online, so please feel free to share anything you know. For some mysterious reason that Nate couldn't relay, the photos have a watercolor effect to them. You can read more about ghost bikes in this previous post.
Materials: White-painted bicycle, votives, flowers, bottle of water
I am used to seeing altars in small businesses, particularly tucked away in tucked-away restaurants and nail salons. I am much less accustomed to seeing them in retail establishments. Kicking around in Malibu yesterday, this one caught me off guard. It flanked the entrance of CANVAS, an upscale shop at the Malibu Country Mart which describes itself as a boutique and gallery that is "a concept founded on an appreciation of contemporary art and design", which at least in part means Obama as Warholian Elvis (see below). The shopgirl was gracious and let me take a few pictures even though it was clear I wasn't going to buy anything. I'm tickled by how seamlessly the desert boots meld with the altar, and presumably they're the only item for sale - but I didn't check.
Materials: Big white porcelain laughing Buddha statue, tree stump, rock with lasercut "Om", unidentified crystal/stone, candle with text "DREAM - BELIEVE - CREATE", fresh flowers in vase, [desert boots]