INSTALL: WeHo, an Interactive Queer Art Festival, Took Place on U-Hauls in a Parking Lot
As quickly as it appeared, it was gone again. On Sunday, the El Tovar parking lot in West Hollywood was transformed for twenty four hours into INSTALL: WeHo, a pop-up, interactive art festival highlighting emerging LGBTQ artists in Los Angeles. Conceived by openly gay performance artist Mark Cramer, this exhibition served as a forum for the stories, struggles, and spirit of the gay community at large via a diverse array of mediums.
"Artists are historians," Cramer explained during an a post-event interview. "We're at a critical point for the gay civil rights movement and highlighting the work of those who have and continue to experience it is invaluable. L.A. is one of the focal points of this movement. We walk on these streets everyday, contribute to society, are expected to maintain social norms and practices, yet we are denied fundamental human rights. Having an LGBTQ art show in L.A. allows us to take an emotional, political and personal snap shot of this struggle."
A snapshot is an apt metaphor for the instantaneous nature of INSTALL: WeHo. In order to efficiently accommodate the festival, a fleet of U-Hauls were transported to the small West Hollywood lot early Sunday morning. The vans served as individual platforms for the installations. How these vehicular spaces were utilized was as varied and distinct as each color in the rainbow .
Ben Cuevas embraced the van concept by creating Ghosts of the Trucks of the Westside Highway, a multi-sensorial homage to the 1970's cruising scene. Black and white blow-ups of Leonard Fink photographs hung from the trailer's ceiling, juxtaposed with authentic sounds of men fornicating.
"Those sound bytes were from a sex party I had inside this truck," admits Cuevas. "I'm representing the radical, underground, outlaw aspect of the queer experience."
Other artists, like Patrisse Cullors, were inspired not by the sexual aspects of the gay community, but by its struggles. STAINED: An Intimate Portrayal of State Violence is Cullors' response to the incarceration and battering of her brother, Monte, while he was in the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. In STAINED, a recording of Cullors reading prison correspondence detailing the abuses Monte suffered played in the background. Other artists performed physical activities within the confines of a red rope.
"[The performers] are portraying what can take you to the brink of insanity," she says. "I wanted to display for queer people in particular, who know what its like to be marginalized and brutalized. There's a natural connection between those who are incarcerated and us as queer people."
Ben Phen is another artist inspired by assault. "A month ago I was physically attacked and ended up in the hospital," he recounted. "It was a hate crime. Four guys in my neighborhood who I didn't know singled me out and beat me up in broad daylight. Afterwords, I wanted to do something that was very healing and take the experience of being hurt and transform it into something beautiful."
His installation, describes as "a sacred healing space," featured psychedelic images of metaphysical energies and sonic frequencies designed to restore DNA structure, as he put it.
Kim Kelly and Onya Hogan-Finlay also tap curative themes. Partners in both art and life, the duo's interactive piece A/V Steam utilized the ancient Korean practice of Chai-Yok, where an herbal mixture is steeped like tea. The resulting steam is exposed to the genital area for healing purposes.
"Its a participatory thing," said Kelly. "Some people are not interested; it feels too taboo. Other people are like, 'Yeah, let me get in there!'"
Other works are less esoteric, but equally queer, like Alex Blas' "Spring 2013 Collection" of haute couture dresses designed for Barbie Dolls. "As a kid, I was never allowed to have Barbies," Blas related.
Micah Levin Alex Blas standing before his Spring 2013 Collection of Barbie Fashion
INSTALL: WeHo had its own Barbie Doll in the form of Miss Barbie-Q, who served as Emcee for the event. The drag sweetheart reveled in the diversity of the event.
"The main vision was to get not just WeHo artists but to get artists from Silver Lake, from Downtown, from San Gabriel, from Compton. We even have artists here from San Jose and San Francisco," said Barbie-Q. "Let them go, 'Look, we did this in WeHo, we can do an INSTALL: Silver Lake, an INSTALL: Downtown LA, and INSTALL: San Francisco even.' There's a whole vision for where its going."
Mark Cramer echoes Barbie-Q's aspirations for INSTALL on a larger scale.
"It is my hope that this will occur every year," he said. "My further hope is that once the formal INSTALL non-profit is established, we'll be able to start an ongoing fund for emerging LGBTQ artists, to provide the funds and the venue for public exhibition for those artists who wouldn't otherwise have had that opportunity yet. I hope to do multiple events a year, culminating in the annual city-wide festival."
With ambitions that large, Cramer is going to need a lot more U-Hauls.