L.A. Stories:Engaging the City
August 29 - October 11, 1998
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 12, 7-9 PM
- Kim Abeles
- Harry Adams
- Nancy Buchanan
- Collage Ensemble
- Mallory Cremin
- Don Normark
- Public Works Administration
- May Sun
- Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst and Rubén Ortiz Torres
Getting to Know Los Angeles
In the spring of 1997, I visited photographer Don Normark’s exhibition "Chavez Ravine" at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. Normark’s images of a "lost" neighborhood, recalling the nearly forgotten history of the site upon which Dodger Stadium now stands, marked the beginning of the exploration that has resulted in this exhibition.
What intrigued me most about Normark's photographs was a sense of incomplete erasure--the notion that Los Angeles is a place of hidden histories and cultures that have, over time, been overlaid by other, newer ones. I started thinking about those "forgotten," virtually invisible, aspects of the city's culture, shadowy remnants that exist behind the stereotypical images of Los Angeles as a utopian, Hollywood-enhanced land of dreams; and its opposite: Los Angeles as a dystopian, nightmarish "Hell-Town." I began rethinking the myths, stereotypes, and general assumptions I had about L.A.
As Norman Klein points out in The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory,"...we must realize that the myths, whether of tinsel town, of the sunny village, or of the downtown Babylon, have never represented the city accurately. They have always systematically ignored the life of the communities in the city; as if the smaller stores, fragile rituals, mix of classes together in a neighborhood could not exist in our imagination when we think of Los Angeles." This exhibition addresses some of these issues. Who represents Los Angeles? Whose L.A. is it? Who tells the city’s stories? Whose voices dominate our consciousness? I wanted to go beyond the "official" stories--those normally told by voices of authority in the media, schools, and cultural institutions--to present personal alternatives, populist histories of everyday life, and to look at the life of "communities in the city."
At the start of my research, I drove around the city (driving is the primary method of knowing Los Angeles) and re-read books about it: fiction--Carolyn See’s Golden Days; Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays; Sandra Tsing-Loh’s If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now--and non-fiction--Mike Davis' City of Quartz, compilations by Michael Dear and Edward Soja, as well as Norman Klein’s book. Reading these sources made me realize how complex and endlessly fascinating this city is and further fueled my exploration. I began to focus on a visual portrait of Los Angeles, but, more than beautiful or haunting images, I wanted to see how and why artists have dealt with it, to experience their process of engaging with the city and its inhabitants, and to understand how that echoed or contrasted my own experiences.
This effort--to get to know the city and its cultures--is at the heart of the exhibition, which is, as a result, highly personal, reflecting my point of view as much as it does those of the artists. As I conducted my research, made phone calls, and visited artists’ studios, my own vision emerged. I sought others who shared my desire to savor the many facets of Los Angeles overlooked by the mainstream. In addition to seeking artists who had lived and worked in Los Angeles for some time and whose art demonstrated a commitment to its culture, history and life, I became particularly interested in those artists and projects that were deeply and personally engaged with the city's inhabitants. All of the artists presented here have come to know Los Angeles in its complexity and diversity; many also participate actively in raising awareness about the city's pressing social issues. These artists work toward goals of transforming how we perceive Los Angeles and its inhabitants, envisioning new stories that subvert the paradigm of official historical discourse, and presenting alternative models for life in the city. "L.A. Stories" is a selective collection of images and histories--not, by any means, the only ones, just those that resonate with me.
The artists in the exhibition employ a variety of strategies in exploring Los Angeles. Harry Adams and Don Normark take a relatively traditional, documentary approach, photographing neighborhoods and communities frequently overlooked or ignored. Others, like Kim Abeles, Nancy Buchanan, Collage Ensemble, Mallory Cremin, and May Sun, present their impressions and stories in a conceptual and intimate manner. Still others deal with L.A. in a hands-on fashion, working directly with specific downtown communities; Public Works Administration, Collage Ensemble, and the collaborative work by Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst, and Rubén Ortiz Torres represent this approach. In the exhibition, the artists are grouped into two loose categories: those who examine L.A. in a broader geographic sense, who tell stories, both personal and public, that cover a range of neighborhoods (Kim Abeles, Nancy Buchanan, Mallory Cremin, and May Sun); and projects by artists focusing on a specific community or geographic neighborhood (Harry Adams, Collage Ensemble, Don Normark, Public Works Administration, and the collaborative work by Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst, and Rubén Ortiz Torres).
Photographer Mallory Cremin's work echoes my own process of preparing for this exhibition. After moving to a warehouse space in the heart of downtown, she decided to question the mostly negative stories she had heard about the city. Her project, entitled "My L.A. Neighborhood," documents her efforts to learn about and connect with her new neighborhood and its residents. Placed on an inviting couch, hand-made pillows with photo-transfer images beg to be picked up and read, each image corresponding to a specific location on the map quilt. Combining the domestic with the public, Cremin locates us geographically and invites us to share very personal stories about her downtown community.
Nancy Buchanan created the interactive CD-ROM Developing: The Idea of Home out of a similar desire to explore the city she calls home. Buchanan examines the politics of space. Using different ways of conceptualizing both public and private spaces, she suggests new definitions of "home." Buchanan considers "home" the core from which the issues of neighborhood, economics, safety, and environment radiate. Her CD presents interviews, video clips, photographs, and text that examine the role of social services, environmental concerns, development policies, and other historical issues that have shaped Los Angeles. Through a variety of voices and stories, she presents innovative ways in which local residents have addressed housing and development problems.
Kim Abeles explores yet another way of understanding L.A.'s culture and history. In the large-scale installation "Legend for a Mapping (Los Angeles Architecture)," Abeles creates a "portrait" of the city. Focusing on key buildings and their architects, patrons, and clients, she aims to recover an alternative history; this is a personal exploration that reflects her long-standing interest in Los Angeles. Abeles has described her earlier mixed-media assemblages as "worlds constructed from lost parts: researched, unearthed, and fabricated." In this installation, she combines a welded steel cityscape, historical photographs of architects, drawings, written texts, and found and fabricated objects. The result is a multi-layered story of L.A.'s past and present.
As noted above, photographer Don Normark relates an historical story about a "lost" neighborhood. In 1948, while trying to find a vantage point from which to document downtown L.A., Normark accidentally discovered the "hidden" village of La Loma in Chavez Ravine. Several years later, all of the primarily low-income Mexican immigrant residents had been evicted. Initial plans for low-cost housing had been dropped, victims of development interests and local McCarthyism’s conservative campaign that public housing was a "communist plot," plans for Dodger Stadium had been approved. By focusing intimately on a specific community, Normark's eloquent photographs capture this village and its setting before they were erased. Years after photographing the area, the artist met Father Juan Santillan, priest of Our Lady of Help Church, who led him to "Los Desterrados," a group of former Chavez Ravine residents. Now engaged in interviewing them, Normark is recording new voices and stories about life in La Loma.
In contrast to Normark's focus on a specific neighborhood, Harry Adams spent the years 1955 to 1985 chronicling the life of South Los Angeles. A professional photographer involved in documenting the African-American communities of L.A., the late Adams worked for churches, social organizations, and private clients, as well as for the Los Angeles Sentinel and the California Eagle. Adams eloquently recorded decisive moments in the history of Black Los Angeles; his scenes of voter registration, civil rights protests, and strikes document the political activism of the Black community. It is to Adams' credit that his images of everyday life are equally eloquent.
The collective Public Works Administration, or PWA, works directly with one community in East L.A. to protest evictions planned to make way for new development. These artists and activists (Elizabeth Blaney, Karina Combs, Dont Rhine, Valerie Tevere, Leonardo Vilchis and Cecilia Wendt) are collaborating with residents and the Union de Vecinos de Pico Aliso to address the impact of urban planning decisions on the Pico Aliso public housing project. Created specifically for this exhibition, their multi-media installation contrasts the role of development in the history of the L.A. Housing Authority with the current struggle of public housing residents to save their community from demolition. Combining original video, archival footage, audio collage, and photography, PWA offers a different perspective on affordable housing in Los Angeles.
Like PWA, Collage Ensemble Inc. (Brandy Maya Healy, Steven M. Irvin, Alessandra Moctezuma, and Alan Nakagawa) uses a range of media, including video, audio, installation, and performance, to address the urban experience in Los Angeles. Founded in 1984, Collage Ensemble creates art works that explore the relationship of the artists' ethnic and personal histories to broader issues of spirituality, class segregation, discrimination, and assimilation. In 1996, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency commissioned Collage to create a work about the produce district. The resulting video consists of interviews with produce industry workers, footage of regional orchards, and information about the district's history. Newly created for this exhibition, the installation "Lo Cal Frozen Blues" further calls attention to this complex community and its history, exploring its role as a social common denominator in the city.
Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst, and Rubén Ortiz Torres draw attention to another downtown community in their collaborative project "Murder in My Suite: Bienvenidos al Hotel California." Using the comic format of a Mexican fotonovella, the three photographers worked together to address issues facing the hotel workers' unions--human rights abuses, class struggles, and a living wage. In 1993, workers at the New Otani Hotel in Little Tokyo organized a union to protest deteriorating working conditions. By presenting these issues within the context of pop culture, Callis, Ernst, and Ortiz Torres slyly inject social consciousness into our everyday lives. Linking a humorous pop format with serious local issues, the story of a veteran housekeeper who is unjustly accused in the workplace and who struggles to clear her name, resonates on both personal and political levels.
Combining assemblage and photography, May Sun's photo light-boxes present her visions and memory fragments of Los Angeles after the 1992 civil rebellion. Recording concrete events of everyday life, she enriches them by placing individual I Ching (from the ancient Chinese Book of Changes) hexagrams beneath each image. Even though all of the images were taken in Los Angeles, they have a universal quality, and their enigmatic nature enhances their power. Through these somewhat abstract references, Sun addresses the transitory character of time and the nature of history, and invites multi-layered readings of a place and the events that have shaped it. In the triptych "L.A. River," for example, the artist combines three images associated with the river: a scene of the river channel, a view of a now-extinct local fish, and graffiti along the river's concrete edge. While these impressions all refer to the same location, their conflation, along with the resonances suggested by the I Ching, evokes the merging of the conscious and unconscious, capturing random impressions and memories that, together, reflect Sun's view of Los Angeles.
For me, Los Angeles is also a blurring of impressions, multi-layered memories, and fragments of stories and ideas. I selected these artists because of the range of their voices, the diversity of their stories, and the models for the future presented through their work. By including artists who explore their personal responses to the city and others who work actively in particular communities, I wanted to show the enormous range of cultures, histories, and ways of living that Los Angeles offers. The stories these artists tell provide a framework within which to revisit, reexamine, and reconstruct traditional understandings of our past. Whether their approaches are subtle and poetic or direct and engaging, these artists all link innovative formal explorations with new media to push the boundaries of what art can be, thereby expanding our individual and collective awareness. Together, they provide a key to understanding the cultural, political, and social landscapes of Los Angeles, of which we are all a part.
L.A. Stories: Kim Abeles
I have this romance with Los Angeles. I wear the stillness of its empty nightgown. I drink it up in the morning light. I find my quiet self amid the noisy movement of lunch trays and wiggling jello.
Historically, at its core, art has served as a guide to the vistas that we see from our own observation decks. My work from the past two decades results from the urban experience*, the contemporary viewpoint of our historical follies, and a Sisyphean journey in search of Nature. My projects and artworks are portraits of Los Angeles, though I view this city and these concepts as symbols of the urban. L.A. has all the components, problems, and achievements of the typical urban schema.
"L.A. is probably the most mediated town in America, nearly unviewable save through the fictive scrim of its mythologizers."
--Michael Sorkin, 'Explaining Los Angeles', California Counterpoint: New West Coast Architecture 1982, San Francisco Art Institute, 1982, p. 8.
Los Angeles hides her magnificent buildings behind a windshield. The architecture ranges from the exquisite lacy interior of the Bradbury Building (born from a séance of psychic dimensions), to housing complexes that are homes for the strong hands that provide for society's comforts. Each building holds a story revealed through books and guided tours. The story I love best about Hollyhock House is not really about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but rather, about Aline Barnsdall: the cultural visionary, adventuress, self-determined single mother. Simon Rodia created the Watts Towers from an unusually pure creative force, the momentum of the spirit, in a world where motives most often drive the tool. And by contrast, the destruction of extraordinary feats of architecture, like the demolition of the Richfield Building, leaves a ghost-like silhouette upon the skyline. L.A. holds the genius of Julia Morgan in the Mission-style home of the previous Herald Examiner, and architect Claude Beelman's turquoise and gold Deco wonder of 1930, the Eastern Columbia Building. The Los Angeles Public Library is a monument to Bertram Goodhue's philosophical understanding of art integrated with architecture as a truly inspired space.
The primary structure of Legend for a Mapping compares the scale of some of the notable buildings of Los Angeles expressed as a welded, steel-rod outline. The outlines of each building fit one inside the other to express their proportional relationships. Each building represented on this metal grillwork is assigned a number attached to its silhouette. Individual artworks in the form of drawings and sculpture become the legend for this mapping of Los Angeles architecture. These respond to the beauty, tales, and human-touched moments of the architecture.
* I walk a 60-block radius to carefully chart the skyline, and pirouette on rooftops to capture round horizons. I draw a mile a minute through the window of a moving train. I walk through people's houses to direct my pilgrimage to the San Gabriels on a day so smoggy that the mountain disappears the closer I come. I trap the footsteps of the sky in haunted messages made of smog. I paint the sky each day like a single patch upon a quilt. I rechart the city's borders to reveal her sister sites. I tape her sounds and show her smokey breath, transforming autos into swarms of cicada. I build in somber puns; "too raz bil' ding iz too târ it doun."
For a look at Kim Abeles' web art, visit http://www.artcommotion.com/Equidistant/. She has also recommended the Arts & Healing Network Site Map for additional information.
L.A. Stories: Harry Adams
Harry Adams (1918-1988) photographed the African American community of Los Angeles from 1954 until 1988. He was a careful observer of the community and was privy to most of the significant events that occurred during his more than thirty years as a photographer. He had an unerring eye for the significant details that speak volumes about daily life as well as the extraordinary, and was particularly sensitive to the faces and circumstances that surrounded him.
Adams' work appeared in the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel, as well as a number of national publications, and was produced during one of the most significant and volatile periods in the commuity. It is a treasure as an historical record of the community and as a testament to the efforts of a man who had a profound respect for the people of his community.
R. Kent Kirkton
Director of the Center for Photojournalism and Visual History
California State University, Northridge
L.A. Stories: Nancy Buchanan
Developing: The Idea of Home
Los Angeles has been looked to as a model for growth as often as it has been ridiculed for a supposedly chaotic growth pattern. Indeed, while cattle, sheep, silk, oranges, and, most recently, aerospace have failed to sustain California economics, real estate seems to be a bottomless reservoir of wealth (as long as the flow of water continues, that is, to follow this analogy). L.A. is my home. I love it with a deep, fierce and irrational force. It is the strength of this feeling that led me to make this work, to investigate what the emotion of "home" may be, how it is manipulated in the service of marketing, and what shapes the concrete manifestation of this place may take in the future. How will we grow, and why? Who determines this shaping? Who profits?
While Southern California (particularly Los Angeles) is the primary model in this piece, other issues are drawn from places I have visited, as are attempts to look at some of the broader ramifications of growth.
Visit Nancy Buchanan's web page at http://nancybuchanan.net/.
L.A. Stories: Collage Ensemble
Brandy Maya Healy, Steven M. Irvin, Alessandra Moctezuma, and Alan Nakagawa
Lo Cal Frozen Blues is a multi-media installation by Collage Ensemble Inc. that is a cross between a garden and a kitchen. Inspired by experiences during their three years as arts collective in residence in the Los Angeles Produce District, the ensemble has created an installation of inter-personal metaphors referencing produce, kitchen rituals, gardening, urban iconography, and spirituality. You are what you eat. . . but do you know what you're eating?
The Los Angeles art group Collage Ensemble Inc. was founded in 1984 as a collaborative vehicle for artists who address the Los Angeles urban experience and the way their ethnic/personal histories exist in this environment. Collage Ensemble Inc. creates artworks that aim to transport the viewer to a place of social understanding and alternative perspectives. Collage Ensemble Inc. re-examines social norms such as assimilation, spirituality, class segregation, and discrimination, while reestablishing them through a collective human experience. The ensemble is an inter-disciplinary art group and is open to all art media and combinations of media. In the past, collaborations have resulted in video artworks, performances, exhibitions, limited edition poetry books, public art, a web page, limited edition audio cassettes, and compact disc, and have reached out to traditional and non-traditional arts audiences nationally and internationally.
L.A. Stories: Mallory Cremin
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had a difficult time adjusting. We came to the heart of this metropolis for the warehouse studio space and discovered an alienating neighborhood of huge buildings, fearful owners, and homeless folks. My work had previously focused on my surroundings and issues of homelessness, but I was paralyzed. The quantity of street people downtown is overwhelming. After almost a year, it came time to confront the fear and walk around the neighborhood with my camera. While photographing my neighborhood, many of the few people I encountered outside their buildings admonished me to take care, that I was inviting trouble. I kept thinking, "But this is my home! I am not supposed to walk outside the gate? What if my car breaks down. . ." We have since moved, but in some way I succeeded in connecting to my community.
Please have a seat, pick up a pillow and read some of my stories. This artwork is meant to be handled.
Visit Mallory Cremin's web page at http://www.mallorycremin.com.
L.A. Stories: Don Normark
Hidden Colonies of Chavez Ravine, 1949
One rare clear day in November 1948, I was looking for a high vantage point to get a postcard view of Los Angeles. I didn't find that view, but when I looked over the other side of the hill I was standing on, I saw a village I never knew was there. As I hiked down into it, I began to think I had found a poor man's Shangri-la. It was mostly Mexican and certainly poor, but there was a unity to the place, and it was peacefully remote. The people seemed like refugees to me--people superior to the circumstances they were living in. I liked them, and stayed to photograph. I didn't know it at the time, but I was in Chavez Ravine.
I returned as often as I could in the next few months. I would step down from the number 10 streetcar, walk Bishop Road under the Pasadena Freeway, and climb a dirt path to the houses of La Loma, the nearest neighborhood in the ravine. The camera hanging from my shoulder was a Ciroflex, a cheap copy of the Rolliflex. With my picture-taking machine and a pocketful of film, I would approach the hill, probably whistling. Whistling was an unconscious habit for which my subconscious supplied the tunes, usually something desperately inappropriate to whatever situation I was in. I loved obscure folksongs then and might easily have been piping the sea chanty Santianna, whose mournful refrain celebrates the enormous land-grab known as the Mexican American war:
'O then we beat them up and down, Heave away Santianna, We conquered all of that Mexican ground, All on the fields of Mexico.
The trees and hills of Elysian Park formed the background, the northeast horizon for the communities of Chavez Ravine. In clear weather, the San Gabriel Mountains fill the sky above the park. That parkland was part of a 1781 land grant from King Carlos III of Spain to the pueblo of Los Angeles. By means of the Mexican/American war, Los Angeles was taken from Mexico, along with its park, the distant mountains, Texas, and everything in between. I didn't learn until years later that even then, in 1949, plans were under way to take Chavez Ravine from the American/Mexicans who lived there, and that the neighborhoods I was setting out to photograph were scheduled for demolition.
I had to work up my courage for these visits, not because I felt I was facing any danger, but simply to overcome my shyness at approaching strangers with a camera. People ask why I made these photographs, sometimes with an implied suspicion. . . what was my real motive? What was I really after? I was really after photographing life, and the people of La Loma, the residents of Chavez Ravine, lived lives that were a bit more open than those in more conventional American neighborhoods. More of life happened outside their homes, in public, where the stranger's camera could see. And the ravine was a finite place, small enough that I felt I might make a set of photographs that could encompass a portion of life there, that could represent the place. Beyond that, the people allowed me and my camera among them. Some elders treated me with courteous interest, some children greeted the camera with glee, but for the most part my presence was simply accepted. An acceptance that was like a gift to me.
L.A. Stories: Public Works Administration
Elizabeth Blaney, Leonardo Vilchis, Dont Rhine, Karina Combs, Valerie Tevere and Cecilia Wendt
"Your Place, Our Home" (A Realty Tour)
A Reality Tour maps out a history of low-income and public housing in the downtown vicinity of Los Angeles. Using original video, city maps, archival materials and audio collage, the tour dramatizes the role of development in the history of Los Angeles' Housing Authority in contrast to the current struggle of public housing residents to save their community in the face of demolition. The tour crisscrosses downtown, providing a history of public housing policy from a point of view committed to economic justice and grass-roots empowerment.
Public Works Administration (PWA) is a Los Angeles based inter-media art group. PWA develops projects around strategic partnerships with local grass-roots organizations, mobilizing communities for economic justice and combating neoliberal economic policies. Public Works Administration works in collaboration with the Union de Vecinos de Pico-Aliso (Boyle Heights), a group of 100 public housing residents organizing to change the political, economic, and social conditions of their community. PWA joins with the members of the Union de Vecinos de Pico-Aliso in fighting for just and affordable public housing in the wake of privatization schemes coming out of HUD and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA).
Increasingly, artists are compelled to engage the disciplines of urban planning and architecture as a way of understanding our culture. The danger with this is that artists may adopt the bureaucratic tendencies of urban planners, specifically, the tendency to exact neoliberal economic development upon poor and working communities. PWA believes the intentions of many urban planners are revealed in discussions of public housing where plans such as structural adjustments, austerity measures and privatization are prioritized. By employing the full range of artistic media - installation, photography, video, sculpture, sound, graphic art, performance, and writing, PWA is currently developing projects to assist the Union de Vecinos de Pico-Aliso in their organizational efforts and their creation of public awareness of the devastating impact of HACLA's mismanagement of public housing in East Los Angeles.
"A Realty Tour" maps out a history of low-income and public housing in the downtown vicintiy of Los Angeles. Using original video, city maps, archival materials and audio collage, the tour dramatizes the role of development in the history of Los Angeles' Housing Authority, in contrast to the current struggle of public housing residents to save their community in the face of demolition. The tour criss-crosses downtown providing a history of public housing policy from a point-of-view committed to economic justice and grass-roots empowerment.
"A Realty Tour" as part of the "L.A. Stories: Engaging the City" exhibition, works in tandem with PWA's video-bus tours (as part of the L.A. Freewaves festival on September 26, 1998.)
For more information about the work of PWA and the issues surrounding it, please visit the following websites:
LA Culture Net, Neighborhood Views, Built L.A., Series Editor - Leda Ramos - (PWA included in this series)
The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) Included in the site is an email directory and a comments and questions section. Please inundate HACLA with comments and questions.
Arroyo Arts Collective Check out the "Without Alarm II" exhibition and catalogue (PWA included in exhibition)
L.A. Stories: May Sun
The images in this body of work are of photographs that I took--fragments of a city that I know, taken from familiar areas of Los Angeles, sites that have been re-visited many times in my daily driving routines. . .
. . .following a chicken truck to its destination in Chinatown--from the chickens in the truck, to their destinies of being slaughtered. . .a burnt-out building (an architectural casualty from the 1992 Insurrection) near 7th Street and Alvarado. . .the semblance of nature in a shot of the L.A. River taken at its Atwater location and a close-up shot of the graffiti on its banks. . .a parking lot just east of downtown housing damaged police vehicles that symbolized the severe damage done to the LAPD's motto "to protect and serve" during the exposure and publicity of the Rodney King beating. . .and, finally, a teen-aged Central American street vendor selling bags of oranges near Highland Avenue and Pico Boulevard (juxtaposed with a historic photograph taken at the turn of the century of Chinese orange-pickers in Orange County.)
The I Ching hexagrams were chosen for their relevance to the photographic images.
L.A. Stories: Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst and Rubén Ortiz Torres
To live and work in L.A. is to witness multiple cataclysmic events and contradictions. Myriad narratives collide here and spin out from the epicenter of the city, which is not one. Among the most pervasive are those cast by the ever-present commercial image industry. From the shores of "Baywatch" to the mean streets of "Beverly Hills Cop," the "Southern California" of the popular imagination defies the lived experience of the place. Largely untold are the stories of the often invisible actors who work behind the scenes in L.A.'s tourist industry.
Working with a budget that might cater a lunch on the set of a Hollywood production, we created a story incorporating the issues that tourist industry workers confront on a daily basis. We chose to draw upon the highly accessible style of the fotonovela, a very popular cultural form particularly in Mexico. The fotonovela, and its media counterpart the telenovela, typically portray lurid tales of sexual exploitation and illicit liaisons in a highly melodramatic, narrative style. We sought to blend this form and noir detective fiction, a genre indigenous to Los Angeles, into an entertaining and informative work.
Murder in My Suite/Bienvenidos al Hotel California is the second project in a series that began with The Big Sweep/La Gran Limpieza. These collaborations emerged from our combined desires to unfold compelling, socially engaged narratives that are experimental rather than based on documentary conventions; to uncover hidden realities of workers whose labor makes L.A. possible; and to work closely with union representatives, union members and community activists to produce cultural projects.
Distinct to Murder in My Suite is the fact that we have delved into an existing narrative-- the organizing efforts of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 11 to unionize a major hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This narrative chronicles the conditions immigrant workers face on the job and within a city that is only able to function by virtue of their labor, a city that simultaneously denies them the decency of a livable wage and other basic rights.
Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst, and Rubén Ortiz Torres have recommended the following websites. Visit them to gain a better understanding of the personal interests and social issues that influence their art:
John Brown Books