Liz Glynn, On the Destruction of the Crystal Palace (Part I of Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead), Engagement Party residency, MOCA Grand Avenue, October 6, 2011

A fairly involved and interesting web of historical references inform Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead, Liz Glynn’s much anticipated Engagement Party residency; MOCA’s website provides useful notes and documentation as well as a library for further research. (In addition, much better photos than mine are available here.) At heart, the project is about the aspirations of modernism to preserve culture, the problems inherent in this endeavor, and the erosion of the very institutions that attempt such tasks.

The first installment was my first live experience of a Liz Glynn project (not counting the amphitheater she constructed for the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair earlier this year). As a performative piece, and particularly as an Engagement Party piece, I was most struck by how nuanced the narrative was behind On the Destruction of the Crystal Palace, and what a delicate beauty it emanated throughout. Engagement Party events have become largely known as spectacle-based happenings designed to interact with big, diverse audiences. While Glynn’s projects have certainly been large-scale, they also tend to be driven by quiet thought, and lack that circus quality that can sometimes be present at MOCA. (A nicely edited video of the event can now be seen here.)

The scale of Crystal Palace was impressive; it progressed in three distinct movements and incorporated a number of media. A steel structure was burned to the ground ahead of time, and video footage of the burning played in the background during the first movement, when another edifice was taken apart by Glynn and her collaborators in the lower courtyard of MOCA. Corey Fogel and other musicians improvised music that utilized parts of the metal structure, while audience members were asked to sift through ashes on the floor to find sheets of colored safety glass.

For the second movement, audience members could take the glass sheets and move it in front of lights that had been set up on MOCA’s large upper plaza. This created kaleidoscopic patterns on a large screen that was installed on the far wall. The movement of the colored plates made for a lovely interaction with the baroque Nancy Rubins sculpture that loomed overhead.

At a work station on the other side of the plaza, Glynn got to work with what looked like the copper head of a firehose (John Burtle’s best guess) to shatter all the glass sheets, which were passed to her by audience members when they were done with them. She spent a long time striking every sheet of glass, which tumbled into a massive pile of candy pieces around her.

The final act was the most sublime, and the most winning. For several minutes, the work station stood empty, covered with a mass of shattered glass. Presently, Chopin’s Opus 69 No. 2—a work that the composer had wished to be burned on his death—was heard playing on the sound system. Two dancers, dressed in formal attire, walked onto the rubble and did a slow waltz. As they moved, you could hear the glass shards crunching beneath their feet. It was achingly beautiful, and a spectacularly poetic finish to the evening. Although the program invited guests to join the dance, no one did, and the stark solitude of the dancers added to the goosebumps.

It’s clear that this project is deeply driven by concept, and as such, any distinctions of media tend to collapse, as Glynn herself has pointed out. It is also arguable that the audience’s participation, although requested in the evening’s program, was not especially needed; in the most affecting portion of the night, no one participated, and it probably worked out better that way. Even if you did participate in the earlier actions, you still had the sense that you were not really the one giving life to the piece.

This brings up interesting questions regarding the role of the audience in works like this; notably, Crystal Palace stands in stark contrast to the situation I described in Hana van der Kolk’s recent work, where the artist depended too much on the audience to enact the performance, and a different kind of discomfort arose. Glynn’s work was so intricately choreographed, that it resulted in a surrealistic feeling of awkwardness and sometimes boredom as we all stood around watching the procession of events unfold before us.

Is this a problem? It might have been in this particular work. From descriptions I’ve read of Glynn’s other projects, they sounded more seamlessly participatory. Still, the beauty of Crystal Palace’s concept and its execution were enough to carry this work for me, albeit more as a viewer than as a participant.

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2 Responses to “Liz Glynn, On the Destruction of the Crystal Palace (Part I of Loving You Is Like Fucking the Dead), Engagement Party residency, MOCA Grand Avenue, October 6, 2011”

  1. Lovely description and interesting insights into Glynn’s work. I wasn’t able to go to “destruction” but was there for “like a patient etherized on the table” last week. Would love to hear your thoughts if you made it to that performance… I was volunteering so took a more academic (i.e. removed) approach to discussing the work on my blog but would love to know how a participant felt about the experience!

  2. Thanks January! I didn’t go to installment #2. Just read your blog post and really enjoyed it – it’s much more detailed and considered than the one that was on the LA Weekly blog. You bring up a lot of interesting angles. I’d like to see more photos of the blindfolded visitors – it’s such a poetic visual!

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