The biannual exhibition series Garage Exchange Vienna–Los Angeles invites a former the MAK Center artist-resident to collaborate with a Los Angeles-based artist or architect for a show displayed at the Mackey Garage Top. The debut in the series premiered on a warm Friday evening this June. Titled Bend a Bow, it is a collaboration between former MAK Center resident Sonia Leimer (artist-resident at Rudolph Schindler's Mackey apartments from October 2005 to March 2006) and LA-based artist Stephanie Taylor. The project responds to Barbara Hammer's 1983 experimental film, Bent Time, also on display.
Now, if the setup feels like a lot to digest, the resulting exhibition doesn't. This is not to say that the show lacks depth, only that it lacks cumbersomeness. Though composed of many parts, each component of the project allows the others to breathe freely. In fact, air, space, and light play as dominant a role in the exhibition as do the purposeful objects occupying it. The show feels stripped to only the most necessary elements; it is contingent on a built-in fragility.
Upon entering the Garage Top space, which looks into the second-storey windows of Schindler's 1939 apartments, the viewer is immediately confronted with Hammer's Bent Time projected onto the south-west facing wall. The film moves quickly and seamlessly through Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, San Francisco, and New York; along the Brooklyn bridge, through the web of California freeways, past ancient ruins and future ones (at one point, the camera sees the World Trade Center's twin towers). As stated in the show's catalog, "Hammer describes the film as influenced by the scientific observation that light rays curve at the edge of the universe and the subsequent hypothesis that time may similarly bend."
Accompanied by a ghostly accordion-based soundtrack by Pauline Oliveros, Bent Time — now nearly thirty years old — does indeed bend depictions of the past into our present. Each present moment is, perhaps, always the edge of the universe as we know it. Hammer's work is made heavy only by subjective responses to it — it might evoke feelings of nostalgia, for example, an acute awareness of the passage of time, or an irritated pull between the comfort of stagnation and the shock of change. In its "objective" state, however, the film is weightless, intangible, a flicker on the wall.
To the north of Hammer's video, Stephanie Taylor's British Portraits, a series of framed photographs, hang in a line, with a related installation below them. This piece takes from Taylor's 2011 installation Rosángela, originally created for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's exhibition, A is for Zebra. Very briefly, Taylor's project uses crates, letters, and small objects that sound like letters (a tea cup: tea: sounds like the letter –B-. A hot cross bun: dough: sounds like the letter -O-) to create a small city built of industrial alphabet blocks and associations. In the Mackey Garage Top, photographs of these blocks spell out "Bend A Bow," but suggest a reading beyond the literal one. That suggestive, but ultimately illusive, nature of Taylor's work is in sync with Hammer's. Taylor's teacups and small bird statuettes also hit at some kind of misplaced homesickness. For what? For years that have passed, or possibly for something that never came to pass. Homesickness isn't always stirred by memories of one's own home or one's own life, but rather by what those things could have been. The weight of Taylor's piece, again, rests in the viewer and his or her inability to fully articulate something otherwise weightless: feeling, language, meaning.
Finally, Sonia Leimer's piece On Location creates the strong symbolic link between these self-supporting, individual works. Likened to a revolving glass door in the catalog, Leimer's sculpture is composed of three connected "windows" made of synthetic breakaway non-glass, which is the material used in films to give the appearance of shattering window (think stunt doubles). At the opening, groups of people joke: how much longer will it be before someone gives into temptation and jumps through Leimer's sculpture? After all, hers is a medium created for the sole purpose of being destroyed. It's no coincidence, then, that in the context of this show, Leimer's non-glass is also composed of reflections.
If Leimer's sculpture shatters, so do the blurred likenesses of Hammer's film, Taylor's language, and of the people gathered in the Mackey Garage Top for the opening. Despite its fragility and transparency, On Location is obtrusive — not unlike a memory or a string of sentences. The sculpture also reflects and even mimics the real windows that look into the Mackey Garage Top — those of the Mackey Apartments, and the rooms of its current artist-residents. In this odd stand-off between reality and illusion (glass and non-glass, art and artists), the question is which one is the parallel universe, and where to find its edge. Katya Tylevich
Through 22 September
Bend a Bow
Mackey Garage Top, MAK Center for Art and Architecture