ART STATEMENT 'PEOPLE COME BACK, TRANSFORMED’ by Birgitte Moos
In 2003, I moved to Downtown LA, to the area which in 2005 was named The Arts District, and witnessed the tragedy of countless homeless on the streets. After my stay in Downtown and my return to Denmark, I have often reflected on the problem of a growing number of homeless veterans in America. Right now the number of homeless veterans are exploding in the U.S., and many move to Downtown LA.
Therefore, I illustrate this theme through an installation in Copenhagen, LA and hopefully in Berlin. The project operates with social space and architecture, dealing with communities and unique population composition in a specific urban space. The installation thematizes the American community's position on war, health and mental disorders. Many Danes are not familiar with social conditions and lack of healthcare in America. Poverty is a huge problem in the U.S. and the contemporary economic crisis just makes it bigger.
LA is a cosmopolitan magnet that attracts success-hungry people from worldwide, while simultaneously being the city in the U.S. with the highest proportion of homeless people. The largest number of homeless people are staying in Downtown.
A few years ago the streets of Downtown deserted after dark. Downtown was LA's financial sector, where workers commuted to and from by car and only the homeless could be at peace. Now, Downtown has become the urban center in LA. A complex society in the city's historic core which is now dominated by gentrification, private property development and New Business Development alongside Skid Row (6th Street), LA County Jail and the Federal Courthouse. The district's original theaters reopens and cultural centers such as LA Opera, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Moca, Staples Center, LA Main Public Library, LA Times, Union Station and Sci-Arc is located there. Untill one of the worlds largest artist colonies, The Arts District, were established in the area in 2005, empty buildings were taken over by artists. Currently a large number of galleries open and close in Gallery Row. At the same time a growing number of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans settle in the streets between private housing, traffic congestion and what is unusual for LA, namely lots of pedestrians.
The project's research phase will consist of urban studies in the homeless lives on the streets of Downtown. I hope it becomes possible to interact with homeless veterans in the streets and to interview them while documenting visually, by taking pictures and video. Recording of their lives on the street is to be produced as a docu-drama video. It will be presented in a narrative form of a pre-and post-war platform, shown on a video monitor located in the installation. Selected photos from street research is framed and hung on the walls of the installation as grotesque sofa pieces. Some photos are digitally manipulated, with war images from Iraq, etc., and some photos will be printed as an underlay for paintings. The video, photos and paintings on the walls represent the veterans' experiences associated with war, and will emphasize the theme of homeless veterans. Image References from the wars are to be edited with new footage on the theme in an attempt to create an abstract reality sensation, illustrating the soldiers' experiences during and after war. Research into new U.S. war movies and Hollywood film versions of returning American soldiers, will take place at The American Film Institute in LA, and in American media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan wars in LA Main Public Library.
The objects of the Installation mixes the realistic with the symbolic. Everyday objects such as photographs, paintings, furniture and a video produces notion of a space, whereas the objects' symbolic content reflects the theme's content and creates a story about homeless veterans suffering. The room's external shape and furnishings is rigorous, an almost frozen tableaux which maintains the past, while the images are hung staggered and partially layered. Picture frames are perfect, while the image content can be chaotic. My intention is to generate a random principle, where known content is broken up and stability is made unstable. Preconceptions can no longer be placed, and thereby opens up new interpretive angles. Movement between space objects is a tale in itself, indicating an underlying threat.
The unoccupied but furnished installation indicates that its former residents moved out as a result of the war's consequences: The returning soldiers' psychological reactions, which are rarely followed up in the U.S., often leads to failed marriages. Thousands of veterans living with post-traumatic stress of sudden death, and flashbacks of the battlefields they experienced. A raw brutality of the harsh living color, where the result is that they are unable to function in society.
I have established contact with the Department of Veteran Affairs in Downtown, where I weekly will volunteer as art therapist at workshops for new veterans. I hope that this close contact will establish a deeper understanding of veterans' psyche than I would otherwise have experienced.
Allocated far too few financial resources to help veterans when they return, and it is not the first time in American history. A tsunami is a term used to describe something that can happen without warning, and have been used as a metaphor for what can happen when the number of returning soldiers are booming in the U.S.
I'm so engrossed in the integration of set design and artistic genres that I recently submitted a PhD project proposal, "Revolutionay Space - Interdisciplinary scenography after post modern theater" to the Copenhagen School of Architecture and Columbia University in NY. The latter at the behest of Professor Arnold Aronson, Head of Columbia University's School of the Theater Arts. This year I am also nominated by LA Weekly, for the best set design in LA in 2010.
What other discipline can contribute as much to performance art than set design, and simultaneously integrate interdisciplinary art forms? Architecture is also an ideal platform for staging non-traditional theater. I believe that modern set design consists of consciousness sociological reflections, cultural comments, collective working across disciplines and the transformation of thoughts, words and deeds of spatial solutions for three-dimensional or simulated space, which often includes audience interactivity. Set design have the opportunity to respond to the present, move people's minds and transcend social and cultural backgrounds. Set design is a common element in art videos and installations. Take for example Mike Kellys last show at the Gagosian Gallery in LA.
Set design has taken many interesting forms since the Greek theater, and the Wagnerian concept of a "Gesamtkunstwerk" which specifically focused on interdisciplinarity, and since the avant garde like the Futurists and the Bauhaus School, who tried to abolish the separation between stage and audience. Different cultural paradigm shift was visualized by rebellious set designers. Set design was moving forward to form a platform, which at the end of last century characterized the theater as a merger of audience and stage and where the action consisted of achieving a common goal.
Currently we live in an era where previous centuries of deep humanistic values are questioned. A present where many people may have become so internationalized that they can not identify with visual stereotypes associated homogeneous groups. If the references even have specific cultural reference points now.
My experiment tries to find new performative expression, and explore how set design can be innovative. Here, in a time where set design and performance in recent years have changed so dramatically, that they question how the areas have been seen for over 2500 years.
Set design is at best revolutionary for both the space and consciousness. A revolutionary space can both inspire and be inspired by intercultural communication. Simultaneously occurs a new cultural landscape, with mutual communication between the community, space and people. In that sense, my aim is to produce a spatial solution that reveals references to the context it is located in, LA. This lets the room and the power of the images convey a ”larger” space, where the physical reality being exceeded and leave deeper insight and sense impressions.
This project's combination of expressions, links and rearranges cultural references, and hopefully create surprising and disturbing ambiguous interpretations. The installation is not an object seen as detached from its location, on the contrary. The project relates to a specific relationship between the number of homeless veterans in DT and the installation. The content and placement is a direct response to this specific context. The installation challenge conventional ideas, and invite the audience to reflect and to engage in the experience of the installation. My intention is that the installation becomes player in a scenario, where it connects, interacts with and affects the surrounding city and social spaces.
In performance one speaks of integrating audience and takes it for granted that scenic spaces implicitly includes performers. A reinterpretation of the performer role in this project, was to create a space where the actors do not have to be physically present in the room while the audience is present. Despite the fact that the actors are not present inside the room references to human activities associated with space and its location is indicated. The actors are real people, namely the homeless who constant exists outside of the installation at street level. In this way, the project works with actor and audience roles. Those involved are performers regardless of role. The dynamic location associated with urban space, creates simultaneously new real-time performance experiences. I call this documentary theater.
This works in a room located in the urban space. The project's strategy challenge tailored separations between disciplines, where the interdisciplinary approach push formal boundaries for different artistic genre descriptions. My hope is to engage with, and become the co-creator of a new and time-relevant future performance landscape. Performative experiments are again present in the contemporary visual art scene.
Copyright ® Birgitte Moos 2015
© Birgitte Moos Chalcraft 2020