Field Notes: Black Box, Alison O’Daniel, etc.

I got to Black Box early, the announcement said 7:30 and I was in the alley off Highland at 7:00. Alison was there already, along with Scoli and a few others who went inside the blocked door to complete their set up. A small group of us gathered in the unhealthy glow of a sodium street lamp, talking together about the same things any group of culturati would currently be talking about: Andrea Fraser’s recent performance (good, very good) local press quotes from artist friends (inaccurate and misleading) the Welcome Inn SASSAS performances (running before, during and after the film we would see, some would make the trip to Eagle Rock and some would not) and the abundant pleasures of having an artist bar in Hollywood (excellent, way rad, blessings heaped upon Liz Glynn).

Image from "Previewing Liz Glynn's Black Box" at Los Angeles I'm Yours blog, which is linked

Inside at the bar the light glittering off Ivette’s glazed jars of intoxicating infusions called to me – I sprinted, hungrily pushing my way through the crowd, and then I paid my money to the young barkeep, took the beaker in my hand and… with a grateful sigh, I fair sank into my melony vodka beverage, the way a straight man might sink his face into the perfumed bosoms of a scantily clad dime-a-dance hostess. “Breathe deep the musky melon,” I thought to myself, “It’s the closest you’re gonna get to a hetero-normative experience in this lifetime.”  (fantasy, all fantasy)

Ivette Soler is a garden designer and consultant as well as a crafter of artisinal alcohol infusions, call her The Germanatrix, and find her here You may also find Yvette’s infusions in the basement at Pepin Moore during openings. You may and indeed you should. (Oh dear, of course Ivette is not of German descent. Germinatrix: say it, spell it, use it in a sentence.)

Tonight was the eleventh and final night of Black Box. Alison O’Daniel’s film screening was on the schedule, Charles Gaines was set to play jazz, Karen Adelman would give two textually layered vocal performances – first upstairs in the attic to no more than ten people at a time, then my understanding is that Adelman would sing out of existence this temporary, memorable, and even necessary 21st century speak easy.

Aah, allow me to elaborate: Adelman would sing, Dawn Kasper would break down the shipping palette walls that defined the space and Nancy Popp (possibly channeling Carrie Nation?) took apart the bar. I wasn’t present, there are certainly more details to be told, and probably facts vary from what I know; but all this question-ability of the events surrounding Black Box is very much in keeping with the facts of its existence: Liz Glynn invited something like thirty and more artists to participate in the creation and interpretation of Black Box, the events of an evening were only to be learned on the evening by reading a blackboard near the bar – that is, one needed to attend to be certain what would be happening. Even Facebook and Twitter were not to be believed, because alcohol, traffic, mood and intuition each played strong parts as motivators and inhibitors of behavior and attendance for artists and for the audiences.

Black Box will be one of those things that grows over the years with each retelling of the stories. While I only attended a few nights of the events, I assure you that if you ask me next year I will have been to many more – other people’s oral histories will have joined with my own, and indeed lies I tell about it today will become part of those mutual oral histories. Next to a primary experience of an event, an imagined experience with something is the strongest memory available to us, and we can learn much from these imagined resources.

I think that Glynn counts upon this in her work. The artist not only draws upon mystery and myth – Rome in a Day, the Lincoln Heights Pyramid Scheme, her rebuilding and then burning of the Crystal Palace for the MOCA Engagement Party – she also create unfoundable rumours and she depends on her audience to participate in the creation and distribution of the myth of Liz Glynn.

Twice I have been blinded by this artist during a performance, twice Glynn has removed from me any possible response to the question, “What did you see?” To misqoute Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, “I saw nothing!” And that I saw nothing remains a powerful force in my memory, driving me to recall with my mind’s ear hearing the self-serving ramblings of a minion of Madoff, to feel again with my hands the sleek and strong feeling of a snake, to hear and taste again the crack of boiled eggs and the snap of Adam Janes’ moonshine hitting the back of my throat as the sun set on the east side hilltop, and the scent of wood from the palettes of Glynn’s Lincoln Heights pyramid.

Last Monday in the attic at Black Box, I recall the feeling of rich soil hitting my back as Liz Glynn buried me alive, “Just let me know when the pressure is too much,” she quietly told me, as though the psychological pressure weren’t already mounting unbearably. My eyes had been closed since before I climbed the stairs, the artist led me by my hand. Her actions were making me nervous and aroused in the way I had once been while investigating with friends (after midnight) an abandoned ranch headquarters in the back country of Diamond Bar. Glynn’s steady attention to the work of my entombing caused me to listen for human or other sounds – I suppose seeking reassurance – and for some reason I felt gratitude toward Glynn: as a burier of the means of reckoning she is unsurpassed, and in that moment I wanted to be stripped of reason by art.

I longed for the cool earth to cover me and calm my nervous fears, I struggled to maintain a detached intellectual interest while the clods hit my  face: here I was living an Edgar Allan Poe story, here, in Hollywood, near the source of so much in our culture (and in my own life), the flickering light of a million Hollywood movies good and crappy began here, I can imagine Kenneth Anger stalking these dark alleys, in a shop on this street Richard Hawkins once traded in the deviant paperbacks, star biographies and collectable books that began his career as an artist, from 1975 to 1985 I and a thousand other guys walked nearby streets at night, and now a genius artist was burying me – did she care? Would it matter? When my head was finally covered and my face disappeared under earth, I wondered if she would she ‘go all the way?,’ and then walk off whistling and leave me. She whispered something in my ear that night, I can’t remember the words but I remember a delicious chill when she spoke to me, and then continued her mounding of earth to cover my body.

There was a black balloon waiting to be inflated on the chair I selected, I sat near the back of the screening area – I was able to see the musicians at front right and I had a good view over people’s heads to the large screen. My experience of seeing the film became also an intense experience of listening, with my ears as well as with my body. The balloons were intended to transmit sound waves into our hands and our bones, and this worked although my taking of notes displaced the balloon from my attention.

NIGHT SKY TRAILER from Alison O’Daniel on Vimeo.

“Night Sky” is like a positivist “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and one or two Australian movies I have seen without registering their titles. There is swimming as sport, a harmless and slightly aimless dance marathon, two heroes on a mysterious desert single car chase, an alien-seeming meditation master playing a giant glass harmonica, and a white dog to tie everything together. The cinematography is beautiful and keeps me going where it needs to.

What feels monumental and remarkable is O’Daniel’s use of sound and her ability to make communication physical, visual and audible and have each of these complement the others without telling a story more than once. There are details that I missed with my ears but picked up with my eyes, and so on. I was made aware of my hearing through visual cues. Where some movies that I have seen will use deep, rumbling bass notes to carry the power of a battle scene or an earthquake, O’Daniel uses the technique generously to make the point that much of my hearing is done in my body and in my bones, and that even with music, and music without a beat, now I know that my body can respond as quickly as my hearing and the combination will make the experience even richer.

This is science fiction at its most humanist, and at the end a voice that could be felt as well as heard made a promise that “the thing we need to complete us” had been taken away (millions of) years ago but was coming back, and that we should look to the earth beneath our feet and we could also hear the message of its coming in watery vibrations and we could share it with others by touching and only by touching, by slowing down our contact to a one-on-one, shared experience, one that goes back and forth.

And after seeing the film, this is how I imagine it happening – when we connect with the earth and are open what we feel is an exchange, not only with the planet but with all the rest of the creatures who also connect. This is my own straying from O’Daniel’s film, which clearly made the point that by listening I heard one story while another person, one who is deaf, might receive another story from her film – I have no way of knowing because sign language is not my own and beautiful as it is, I cannot read those signs just as one who hears not will feel the rumblings of sounds but possibly miss a voiceover like the one I heard.

I find that Alison O’Daniel has written of this film in 500 Words at Artforum.


Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival (and all that jazz)


  1. sad I missed this… boo on not publishing program.

  2. well, i exaggerate Alice, the events were announced on facebook and twitter by the participants so if you are a friend of Alison, for instance, you would see it on your wall…

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