Tori Wrånes, Spin Echo, curated by Warren Neidich and Elena Bajo for LAXART, Disney Concert Hall Parking Level 7, April 4, 2012
First, I have to say that the photos I took of this event don’t do it any justice at all. The figures in the frames look so tiny and inconsequential, just like people in a large parking lot normally would. What you can’t see is the way sound, voice, and motion lit up and completely transformed the cavernous spaces of Disney Concert Hall’s parking level 7, turning it into a magical wonderland where strange and beautiful things can and do happen.
About 75 people gathered in the lowest rung of Disney’s parking structure to watch Tori Wrånes, with the help of a group of performers wrangled from LA’s fecund eastside artist community, cast her spells. She had been brought in from Norway specifically to conceive and direct this performance, which was part of LAXART’s Art in the Parking Space series, curated by Warren Neidich and Elena Bajo. I became a fan of Wrånes’ work last year when she did an impromptu recital of a Norwegian avant-garde song at Human Resources. She had told me then that the recital was not typical of the work she usually does. Judging from glances at her website, I’m guessing that last night’s foray was closer to her own practice.
The performance began with a hushed, utter emptiness. This huge space normally filled with cars became a lovely, minimalist stage set, awaiting action. Out of the distance, Wrånes began by singing, not words, but rather large operatic tones, which boomed throughout the space and modulated their bounces as she walked closer toward us, then disappeared around the bend. It was an opening call for the performance to begin.
The next thing we knew people on bicycles began riding out, emerging out of the distance, gliding through the large pathway of the structure, and passing leisurely by us. There was quite a variety of both riders and vehicles—male and female, young and old, etc., riding old touring bikes and even a child-size Schwinn. A few rode together on tandem bicycles, or with a passenger sitting on the rear carrier. Some of these riders also began to sing, the same snatches and bursts of operatic tones that Wrånes had begun. I could tell that at least some of the singers were classically trained, the strength of their voices making for a commanding presence.
This continued for a while, the riders circling the same path through the structure, passing by the audience members, the air gently combing their hair back, a look of beatific joy or concentration on their faces. There is something about the simple image of a bicyclist that is so cinematic and European, recalling DeChirico paintings and Truffaut movies. Their riding was accompanied by their noise opera, which rang and bounced through the building, so that continuous circles of movement and sound brushed the still, underground air around us.
The opera built to a crescendo and gradually came to a pause before starting up again. Then a second layer was added. As the cyclists continued riding and singing, we saw approaching in the distance four groups of figures: each was comprised of an accordionist, lying or sitting on a wooden board with wheels, being pulled around with a rope by a person on foot, while playing the accordion. So now the discordant sound of accordions joined the vocal sounds, and the grinding noise made by the wheels on the concrete floors was another provocative undertow.
The accordionists were pulled around in small circles, each one assuming a different pose with their accordion. The ropes were thick and colorful, and most of the people doing the pulling were large guys, with one woman pulling a smaller woman around. This image conjured mythological overtones for me, a blend of the labors of Hercules and the adventures of Pan.
The performance lasted about half an hour, but during that short time, a whole mythical world was created in that parking structure that was completely unexpected, yet totally at home in those environs. The gestures were as light as air, but the makeshift opera as a whole took root deep in the body and lit up the mind’s eye as far as it could see.