Marnie Weber, Eternity Forever, Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Altadena, November 11, 2010

Marnie Weber, Howling for the Return,
collage on photograph, 2010

Marnie Weber’s work is haunted by many things. The punk rock aesthetic that shaped her early years as a musician in downtown Los Angeles. The feminist energy that drove her forward when she was one of the few women on the alternative scene of the 1980s. And most of all, the strange and fertile world of her childhood imagination, nurtured in the woods outside her Connecticut home until she moved with her family to LA at the age of 10.

So it was a beautiful thing that West of Rome, which functions as a sort of fairy godmother to local artists, enabled Weber to put on Eternity Forever, a night of performance and an opening reception for an exhibition of new collages, at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum. Located within steps of Weber’s studio in Altadena, these serene grounds are a frequent source of respite for the artist, and as it turns out, an amazing site for an art happening.

The evening began with a guided walk-through of the cemetery, located across the street from the mausoleum. Groups of visitors were herded in and accompanied by a friendly group of costumed creatures from Weber’s repertoire—a rooster, a lamb, a skinned rabbit, a bear, several old crones in nightgowns, various other monsters, and an undertaker who tried gamely to tell us stories about the people lying in the graves beneath our feet. This “performance” was a bit scattered and probably would’ve benefited from more direction and rehearsal. As it was, the best part of the experience for me was simply walking through this old cemetery after dark, shining my flashlight on the old-fashioned gravestones and noting that many of them dated back to the 1800s. I also loved the sight of all these creatures, who came from somewhere deep inside Weber’s psyche, running around in this world in a setting that welcomed them perfectly.

After the tour I spent some time wandering through the mausoleum, which is a real jewel. Stained glass windows decorate its high walls, and the inside of the place is much bigger than it looks from the outside. It has high vaulted ceilings, painted with classical scenes, and long dark corridors that go on and on like Roman catacombs. The walls are filled with dead people on either side, whether in drawer-style coffins or nooks filled with elaborate urns. Some families have little nooks all to themselves, where they can hang out surrounded by the remains of their ancestors. There’s also a charming little chapel and a lovely courtyard, where tacos and beer were being served.

Presently we heard that there was going to be a “spectacle” outside, so out we went to find all the creatures lined up on the long walkway leading up to the mausoleum entrance, awaiting the grand arrival of their creator. Weber did not disappoint, roaring up to the joint with her band, the Spirit Girls, in a gleaming, topless, silver vintage Cadillac. It was a very Addams Family rock and roll moment as they debarked, greeted the crowd, and led a processional into the central chamber of the mausoleum, where a stage set and screen awaited them.

Weber’s new film, Eternal Heart, created during a summer residency at CalArts, played overhead while the Spirit Girls provided live accompaniment. Done in the style of a silent film, complete with period costuming and interstitial dialogue cards, Eternal Heart is the story of a lonely girl who lives with her crotchety father and must go within to find love and companionship. Through a dance, she releases all the demons inside her, and they become her friends. The film slowly goes from black-and-white to color as Weber and her creatures walk outside into the sunshine, affirming the transcendent power of love.

It’s a simple and beautiful film that’s quite a departure from Weber’s previous works, which have tended to be more psychologically complex studies with entrancingly muddy visuals. In a way, it felt like a culminating work that summarized the artist’s ethos and world view—a sketch of the essential origin of all of her work, as well as an optimistic look forward at more work to come.

After the film was over, the Spirit Girls played a brief concert, billed as their final performance on this earthly plane (Weber is now moving on to a new noise band project, Fäuxmish). How amazing was this? The story of the Spirit Girls is that they were a group of girls who died too young and never got to realize their dreams—hence, they play music together in the afterlife. Now they would play their final gig at a beautiful mausoleum in Weber’s own neighborhood. Several hundred people were crowded into the ground-floor chamber as well as the balconies above to witness this event. Not to mention the many dearly departed who lay in the walled tombs around us.

I leaned against a couple of the tombs while watching the set, which was quite loud and quite punk rock. (How did West of Rome get permission to do this from the mausoleum? Serious kudos to them.) Weber is still pretty old-school, channeling the ominous and focused vocal stylings of Siouxsie Sioux, Exene, and the Bush Tetras. The crowd was distracted at first, descending into post-screening chatter as art world types are prone to do. But Weber’s powerful energy grounded the room and soon commanded everyone’s attention. The set was energetic and satisfying, ending with the signature Weber number, “I’m Not a Bunny.”

The night was brought to a lovely close with another pagan processional upstairs to the mausoleum’s art gallery, where Weber’s new collages are on display until December 20. Weber says that she stumbled across this forgotten space and found a bunch of posters tacked up there, as though someone had an art show and then abandoned it. As a sort of tribute to the space, Weber’s collages were also tacked up, unframed. They also had a more raggedy quality than her previous, more immaculate output; instead of being Photoshop-finished, you could see the cut-out, pasted-on collage elements. Notable images included bats with baby faces hanging from a tree, and a Spirit Girl whose red dress disintegrates into the petals of a rose bush.

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