Designs build on vision of a better life
“After Victor Papanek: The Future Is Not What It Used to Be” at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena features artists who engage with the principles of the industrial designer, writer and educator.
An early proponent of human-centered, sustainable and socially responsible design, Papanek influenced SoCal design practices as a founding dean at CalArts.
The result is an engaging and thought-provoking exhibition that celebrates not only creativity but the notion that art might make the world a better place.
Papanek, who died in 1998, saw design as a way of solving real problems for real people rather than simply generating novelty or celebrating genius. He advocated for design addressing the needs of the poor, disabled, elderly and other underserved communities.
The exhibition includes several copies of his books and images of his designs, including a pair of tall, stilt-like shoes he made for his mother, who was too short to work comfortably at her kitchen counter.
Perhaps the most closely allied with Papanek’s vision is Ken Ehrlich and Mathias Heyden’s set of curtains and rolling wooden bookshelves. Designed in response to discussions with the Armory Center’s staff, the components of the piece have served as storage, room dividers and an ad-hoc bar, among other uses. Modular, low-cost and based on practical needs, they are the humblest, hardest-working objects in the show.
Similar in spirit is Rafa Esparza’s fire pit, an octagonal structure made of local adobe bricks. Esparza has proposed adding the pits to Pasadena parks as a cheaply produced, biodegradable alternative to poorly maintained metal grills.
Somewhat less useful, if more beautiful, is CamLab’s wall-mounted, fold-down, wood-and-mirror table. Actually based on a Papanek design, it is shaped like a vagina, recasting Papanek’s work in a cheeky, feminist light. In a similar vein, Olga Koumoundouros celebrates her close relationship as a single mother to her son in a dreamily decorated gold hammock for two.
More scholarly, but less fun, are Dave Hullfish Bailey’s annotated topographical maps, looking at the “design” of the American West through early planning for educational initiatives.
Robby Herbst and Liz Nurenberg both use sculpture as a means of facilitating personal interactions. Herbst’s “Collective Interrogation Apparatus” is a set of wooden poles outfitted with wrist and ankle restraints that bind participants in a circle for conversations about restrictions. Nurenberg’s “Conversation Piec- es” are eccentric foam headpieces designed to be worn by two people at a time in order to bring them into more intimate dialogues.
The most spectacular work is Michael Parker’s “Steam Egg II,” an eggshaped steam sauna coated in mirrors like a disco ball. The sparkling egg, propped up on stilts, is entered through a hole at the bottom; herbal blends of hot steam are piped in through a side channel. The egg brings spiritual traditions of ritual purification into the context of modern design; not only disco-fabulous, it is also portable.
Although it wasn’t in use during my visit, anyone may squeeze inside and get sweaty on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-5101, through Sept. 6. Closed Mondays. www.armoryarts.org
Distinct stories of Mexico
Hugo Crosthwaite’s exhibition at Luis De Jesus presents two distinct bodies of work. One deals with the recent murder of 43 college students in Guerrero, Mexico; the other, more murky, addresses the city of Tijuana, where Crosthwaite was born and grew up.
“Shattered Mural” is a beautiful commemoration of the students. Forty-three freestanding panels are sprinkled across the f loor. Propped upright like tombstones, each one depicts a black-and-white portrait of a victim. As you wander gingerly among them, it’s tempting to think you could put them all back together.
More ambitious is a series of black-and-white drawings of Tijuana carnival scenes in the front gallery. Mash-ups of photorealistic images of rides, taco stands, liquor stores and brothels, they are further overlaid with rough, cartoonish imagery of enigmatic figures or lumpy, intestinal shapes.
At first these interventions feel like defacements; on closer inspection they also convey a child-like glee. They are perhaps an effort to introduce another dimension of experience into otherwise bleak imagery.
Crosthwaite is certainly a virtuoso at juxtaposing and reconciling multiple spaces and realities. His works clearly ref lect rich internal narratives about Tijuana’s role as a gateway between two separate, unequal ways of life. However, these stories are so deeply encoded, so densely layered, as to be nearly inaccessible.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 838-6000, through June 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.luisdejesus.com
Created in his father’s bathing suit factory in Lincoln Heights, Anthony Lepore’s photographs at Francois Ghebaly Gallery examine workplace conditions, and more surprisingly, the formal qualities of slippery, shimmery spandex.
The center of the larger gallery is filled with two rows of well-worn industrial sewing machines, punctuated with spools of bright thread and personal tchotchkes: a portrait of Pope John Paul II, a Chinese calendar, a cutesy pin cushion shaped like a hat.
Most striking, however, is the furniture that’s not there. Each worker’s chair is represented by a stark photograph. Wrapped or covered with sad bits of fabric or padding scavenged from the factory f loor, the chairs are testaments to poor working conditions, but they are also self-portraits, created out of necessity or whimsy.
Yet the show is more than an exposé. Lepore has photographed skeins of spandex, cut, gathered or punctured by straps or hands. In “Window Treatment,” hot pink fabric is cut and draped to form faux “windows” within the f luorescent-lighted factory. “The Fitting” is more of a performance: Hands emerge from a scrim of dark orange fabric, seizing and pulling on brightly colored straps crisscrossing the surface.
Throughout is the implied presence, not only of the female bodies who make the bikinis but those who wear them. With his more playful, abstract gestures, Lepore locates a different kind of poetry in the spandex. Francois Ghebaly Gallery, 2245 E. Washington Blvd., (323) 282-5187, through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.ghebaly.com
CREATIVITY AND sustainability emerge in works by various artists in the new thought-provoking exhibition “After Victor Papanek: The Future Is Not What It Used to Be” at the Armory Center in Pasadena.