Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hairy Crabs and Slow Movies, a Night at UCLA Open Studios

by Matt Weston (writer), New York, February 23, 2007


Over the course of two evenings – Friday, February 9th and Saturday, February 10th – UCLA’s current crop of MFA students opened their creative floodgates to the public. Housed in Culver City's Warner Studios, the show felt organic. It was also laid out with the complexity of an organism.

A honeycomb is the best way to describe the arrangement of the studios. Many shared a common wall like cubicles, while others were more open and had higher-ceilings. At times this caused a lot of backtracking and uncertainty about what you had seen and when – exciting too, never knowing what or who might greet you around the next corner.

The first "open studio" off the main entrance was, by all accounts, a workshop. An end-table perpendicular to the right-hand wall was littered with tools of the trade: rulers, uncapped tubes with squibs of paint seeping out, rubber mallets, fine brushes and chisels. What appeared to be a disorganized, for-their-eyes-only private space also presented a rare opportunity to probe what lies beneath the finished products we see in galleries and museums.

Great artistry – and great artists are not quick to dispel this – invites mythologizing. It's difficult to look at a Rodin sculpture and not picture a solitary genius nicking blocks of marble in his spare time, mechanically pumping out masterpieces. A glance at this workshop table helped prick that fiction for me; nothing is effortless where art is concerned. From finding studio space to refining technique to buying overpriced supplies, the rigors of art are many. Rodin was a genius and he had a team of pupils, craftsman and stone cutters always on-call.

An intense fascination with bizarre-looking creatures is all the assistance artist Lily Simonson needs to do her work. I don’t want to exaggerate the connection between Ms. Simonson’s work and Rodin’s, but her obsession with moths and hairy crustaceans, in time, might very well elevate her to hallowed grounds. These entomological studies have been the life-blood of her work for many years … and it showed in her studio. The most striking example was a rendering of the so-called “yeti crab,” produced while she was on a grant-supported trip to the South Pacific. Ms. Simonson’s application of a stark black background makes the viewer feel as though he’s strayed too far from the space station, and for his error has encountered a possibly devious alien being.

Sharing the largest viewing area with an eight-foot canvas of one of Ms. Simonson’s moths and other featured works was a super-slowed down screening of “First Born,” a 1984 film starring Teri Garr and Corey Haim. “Slow” in the sense that one-second of real movie-time had been stretched over five seconds (or more) in this installation. At such a glacial pace, all spoken words sound like monstrous groans, as if a record player were set to 3 RPM’s. And all eye contact is held too long, implying affection or conspiracy between characters where none exists.

“First Born” was very reminiscent of Douglas Gordon’s 2003 traveling slow-show, “24 Hour Psycho.” “Psycho,” like “First Born,” was not conceived to be viewed in one sitting. What’s measured here is aesthetics, not endurance. Gordon’s “Psycho” worked because it out-suspenses even Hitchcock’s original. The classic shower scene, already terrifying at full-speed, becomes unwatchable in Gordon-time – the curtain drawing open Janet Leigh’s violent fate so s-l-o-w-l-y it seems to get farther and farther away. What a painful illusion! “First Born” doesn’t have the cultural capital to pull that off. The movie probably lagged at full-speed. To draw it out interminably just seemed like a cruel distraction.*

“First Born” aside, the studios and installations were filled with exuberant, high-minded, adventurous work. And there was so much of it. At shows this good, it also pays to look at the person next to you.** Chances are they’ve spent hours ironing cryptic messages onto their t-shirts, or fashioning headgear out of wire and felt.

Art, manifested every which way, is very much alive in Brentwood.

For more on the Yeti Crab:

* Danny DeVito, for one, did seem distracted by the chugging “First Born.” He, along with wife and ex-Cheers barmaid Rhea Perlman, stood gazing at the screen for what seemed like fifteen, twenty minutes. Neither smiled, and it seemed more study-session than laugh-in to them.

**Or at Lucy Liu, who was rumored to have been there. Although I did spot a very short, very attractive woman leaning against a wall, I cannot, unfortunately, vouch that she was Lucy Liu.

About the Writer

Matt Weston is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Hairy Crabs and Slow Movies, a Night at UCLA Open Studios

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By V on February 26, 2007 at 02:03 am
Is this only an annual thing? I'll be sure to check it out next year. Nicely written.
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By Matt Weston on February 26, 2007 at 11:38 am
V - Semi-annual, I think. I found out about it last minute, but I'll be sure to send out the APB next time. It's worth checking out if you're into this kind of thing.
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By Matt Weston on March 07, 2007 at 01:55 am
Corrections: Lily Simonson has not (yet) received a grant to study the yeti crab, and she traveled to Paris to study the world's only specimen. My apologies to the artist.
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