At the heart of So L.A. (hell, at the heart of most every Los Angeles story) is the story of a single woman’s struggle to reinvent herself while navigating the blinding glare of perpetual sunshine in the southland. More specifically, Magdalena de la Cruz , the female protagonist of So L.A., seeks an escape from the traumatic and sudden death of her twin brother, Junah, and so she uses her body as a canvas of reinvention. “When Junah died I stopped wanting to be me,” Magdalena says as she literally cuts any resemblance between herself and her brother “out with sleek scalpels.” In Magdalena’s own words she “refashion[ed] myself in skin temporarily scarred with puffy red staples. I doused my face in designer tonics to erase the light brown spots of San Joaquin sun. I surrender[ed] to filthy, exorbitant whims…”. As Magdalena takes refuge in boutiques and Botox—seeking desperately for something to fill the void her brother has left—her marriage to Ricky, a socially conscious first-generation Mexican-American, is in jeopardy; her few friendships begin to unravel; and Diamond Myst, her booming designer water business, is drying up. A physically, and more importantly socially augmented version of her former self, Magdalena hits bottom and uses installation art to symbolically (and literally) peel back the layers of her designer body. As she does so she tries desperately to remember, “what it means to be me.”
I’m not a visual artist myself, so I, like Magdalea, had to do a lot of research. With Florine Stettheimer, Gwen John and Tamara de Lempicka, I poured over portraits, studying brush strokes, chin lines and the proportion of parts. With the Jennys—Saville and Holzer—I poured over attitude, extremity and exhibition. With Cindy Sherman, I fell back in love with the still. And of course, the French performance artist Orlan and the feminist exhibitionist Valie Export have long been my favorites, especially when exploring the “cosmetic undoing” of Magdalena.
Looking for physical documents of the “how” and “where” of Los Angeles, I went “old school” and used a lot of maps. While mapping Magdalena’s body (and bodily movement) across the terrain of Los Angeles proper I was also able to map her psychological condition and her physical healing. So you can imagine my intense JOY when I discovered, just last week, the insanely brilliant work of Arzu Arda Kosar. Featured in the current exhibit RE:Present L.A. (at the Vincent Price Art Museum until July 27, 2012) Arzu Arda Kosar work, LA Count Potted, features a mapped installation wherein the soci-economic and ethnic diversity of Los Angeles is plotted (and potted) with flowers.
From the Artist: Arzu Arda Kosar
flowers in pots, water, plug in floral fragrance
17′ x 16′
In “LA County Potted”, I actively took over the role of the conservator as I nursed a temporal map of the Los Angeles County. My map mimicked the ethnographical data through its use of potted flowers chosen based on their price, place of origin, form and characteristics such as hardy or tender, desirable versus weed. All of the plants had different needs, one group required full sun exposure, another was shade tolerant, yet others were indoor plants. By design, the conditions inside the gallery favored certain species while it doomed the survival of others.
For the duration of the installation, I was on site to maintain this floral garden, trying my best to keep the flowers in their most perfect appearance. Equal care was given to all. For instance, individual pots were watered for 10 seconds each. Yet, despite this painstakingly careful equal treatment, certain flowers died within a few days while others thrived throughout the show. The installation was further enhanced by plug-in floral fragrances to intensify elements of artificiality, allure and concealment.