De­signs build on vi­sion of a bet­ter life

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - By Sharon Mi­zota

“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

Jeff McLane

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.

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