Un-Privileged Views

Through 25 March at the WUHO gallery, this exhibition shows cities as totally unique forms and even, in some cases, fictions.

The Woodbury University Hollywood (WUHO) Gallery is located just off the Hollywood Walk of Fame — a street whose greatest offense, perhaps, is being "Iconic." Somehow the "I-word" has come to equate itself with another: Ignorable. Yes, tourists swoop in for the photo-op, but locals (with notable exception) no longer see the "Iconic" bastions of their city — sometimes they purposefully avoid them, with turns of derisive phrase like "tourist trap." Other times, locals simply fail to acknowledge their "Icons" — innocuously, perhaps, because after all, when you're late to work, the mundane takes precedent, Iconic becomes everyday, and only short-lived novelty can compete.

That said, a certain value develops around the anti-Icon: the overlooked, the hole-in-the-wall, the before-it-gets-discovered, the once-discovered-now-forgotten, or the beautifully decomposing. In face of Urban Celebrity, symbols of anonymity, or grittiness as opposed to glossiness, can carry with them a certain pride or romanticism. But when the anti-Icon fronts the same magazine covers and tops the same pedestals as the Icon, it becomes a paradox and cliché in itself: consider the phenomenon of "ruin porn" (and the backlash against it), in which hard-hit cities like Detroit are photographed for their deserted and depressed urban remains. Is it appropriate to celebrate the Anti-Icon? When (if ever) does documentation of place equate with its exploitation?
Top: <em>Un-Privileged Views</em>, WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen. Above: <em>Paris Je t'M</em>, by Mireille Roddier
Top: Un-Privileged Views , WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen. Above: Paris Je t'M , by Mireille Roddier
Un-Privileged Views , which opened at WUHO on 3 March, approaches such questions with directness and understanding. In an early description of the exhibition, Un-Privileged Views was billed as exploring "unfamiliar views of familiar places in order to change how we think about and represent them, and look for ways to embody alternative viewpoints in the construction of images." In that, the exhibition avoids glorifying the down-and-out, just as it avoids simply rehashing "Icons" from different vantage points, showing signs of use and time, perhaps, but nevertheless showing something we've seen before. Instead, the exhibition shows cities as totally unique forms and even, in some cases, fictions: On opening night, unexpected and surprising representations of urban space came jutting out of walls and even floors, they stacked one atop the other as shoe-boxes, they shape-shifted, hid behind peep-holes, and interacted with the viewers.
<em>Un-Privileged Views</em>, WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
Un-Privileged Views , WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
A particularly thoughtful piece, albeit formally a modest one in comparison to neighbors, called Paris Je t'M , by Mireille Roddier , hangs as a quilt of photographs, juxtaposing Parisian street signs dedicated to France's heroes of history, with the signs and logos of global consumerism. So, for example, Guy Môquet (1924-1941), whose caption reads "Young Communist militant & emblematic hero of the resistance, arrested in 1940 and executed, along with 26 other communist prisoners," finds himself in the immediate company of American Apparel; or Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794), "Enlightenment philosopher & mathematician, defender of human rights, revolutionary. Advocated for free public education, women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery," finds himself rubbing shoulders with United Colors of Benetton. In a very deft and concise manner, Paris Je t'M shows something "unseen," though already in plain view: the city of Paris, with its unmistakable edifices, and unspoken (though spelled out) histories and contradictions.
A viewer senses just how serious the curators were when they promised to deliver "alternative viewpoints" — indeed, this exhibition is cohesive in concept, but not in vision, which is exactly the point
<em>Un-Privileged Views</em>, WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Austin SinClaire
Un-Privileged Views , WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Austin SinClaire
Likewise, a piece called Welcome to Albuquerque by Genevieve Baudoin & Bruce Johnson presents a view of its title city that may not fit in one blink of an eye or one shot of the camera: the view of Albuquerque's suburban homes as they appeared in original real estate photos (i.e. "suburban fantasy") beneath physical layers of reality — images of the homes as they have changed over time through remodels, additions, repairs, and disrepairs. Instead of a clean-cut before-and-after, this work shows a pragmatic "now," which is inevitably motion-blurred and complicated, in a constant tug of war between past and present, and impossible to typecast or "capture" as a photograph inevitably does.
<em>Un-Privileged Views</em>, WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
Un-Privileged Views , WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
Co-curated by Eric Olsen, Associate Professor at Woodbury University School of Architecture, and by Keith Mitnick , Associate Professor of Architecture at University of Michigan, Un-Privileged Views is composed of submissions sent from all over the world, and selected by a committee of six architecture scholars from leading universities across the United States. The text accompanying each exhibited work is written by its creator, with very minimal editing from the curators. Which is to say that the voices heard in this exhibition are as varied as the views that are seen: moving from one work to the other, from one description to the next (one dense, the other bare-basics; one academic, the other first-person and narrative), a viewer senses just how serious the curators were when they promised to deliver "alternative viewpoints" — indeed, this exhibition is cohesive in concept, but not in vision, which is exactly the point. When I speak with Olsen, one day after opening night, I ask him what the origins of the show were. "It was a conversation Keith and I had about images — we were getting a little nostalgic for a different kind of representation," he tells me. 'We wanted to see more images of cities that would generate new ideas, not just communicate existing ones." Katya Tylevich
<em>Un-Privileged Views</em>, WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
Un-Privileged Views , WUHO Gallery, installation view. Photo by Eric Olsen
Un-Privileged Views
WUHO Gallery
Los Angeles
Through 25 March 2012

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