By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, SEPT. 2016
One day a lovely old tree by a parking lot on the Sunset Strip suddenly grew a box around its trunk. A ten-foot square box made of translucent white scrim, furnished with a stowable plank bed, hanging lights, and an upright piano. It captured, refracted, and layered moving shadows of the sun and glowed pulsating red at night. Periodically, strange sounds emanated, harmonies and dissonances, snippets of radio broadcasts, and lengthier raga-like improvisations that might last hours. A young man appeared to be living inside. Sometimes, he came out and spoke to curious passersby. This went on for 10 days and nights, and then the box disappeared.
This post-genre cultural moment renders obsolete once-germane questions like whether this intervention and occupation of public space is sculpture, performance art, music concert, or social practice. It is all of those things. The Cube was conceived and enacted by Brazilian born artist, pianist, and composer Manuel Lima, whose stated intent was to integrate ordinary urban life -- his own and anyone else’s -- with the usually private creative practice of composition; the interior world of psychical inspiration and the external world of physical existence. The Sunset Strip in West Hollywood may not be known for avant-garde poetics, but it is known for live music, eccentric characters, heavy car traffic, and sidewalk surrealism. In way, Lima fit right in.
“Having the privilege of watching Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood for ten days gave me a lot of time to think about my work,” says Lima. “There I was, in the real world. Sometimes I was invisible, sometimes I became an attraction. Sometimes I would see inspiration on the street, sometimes I would find it in myself. The piece transformed me when I experienced myself blending with the street. Because I was dealing with sound, I could be free from the frame and subvert the notions of outside and inside. Everything became one transitory space in a sort of meditation on street noises.”
The Cube was accompanied by a charming handwritten and diagrammed Score with shades of Christo’s notebooks, a saliently analog artifact to a quirky yet elegant temporary temple of artistry. It detailed not only the musical interludes but also the movements of the artist throughout each day, the times allotted to jogging, bathing, and eating meals off-site, sleeping on-site, and the times to expect musical performances. Crowds of various sizes gathered on the small lawn, on chairs and blankets, as the music and the lights, whose patterns were electronically keyed to the sound, began to resemble a Close Encounters-style extraterrestrial communique, with the irresistible red light of a secret cabaret, and the sun set, and the area’s marquees lit up. Soon, the artist would retire for the night. The Cube would remain a stoic curiosity until the next day’s program commenced. Repeat.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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