L.A. Bicentennial Piece 1980

The context of the “objects” and more importantly the reworked images within this piece reflect a variety of concerns; environmental, social-economic, religious, etc. Robert Heinecken once said, “L.A. is a kind of model (good and bad) for the country. All of the things which are happening in urban life are happening first or more intensely here… The crowds, the hustle, the sprawl, technological effects, industry… All tend to produce very free-wheeling attitudes and life styles in people which are reflected in the art…”

Existence in Los Angeles is coupled with a great deal of fantasy. Sometimes I feel that anything and everything can happen in L.A., and does. The L.A. piece reflects this fantasy in its iconography. A zeppelin, the relative of often seen blimps, floats over City Hall. City Hall, the white phallic symbol, stands erect over Los Angeles. Representing government and law and order, the building has been used in television’s Superman and Dragnet programs of the 1960’s. Flanked by another Southern California monument, the billboard, with its cigarette advertisement, City Hall looms out of the layer of pollution called smog. The L.A. scene wouldn’t be complete without palm trees and in the images if one looks very closely, one finds that the palms are plastic and not “real” at all.

The Bird of Paradise plant is the plant that Los Angeles has adopted for its own symbol. Besides the interesting name and various connotations derived, I like the plant in this fantasy because its bright orange-red petals remind me of fire. One might find the warmth of Southern California enticing but perhaps we are reminded of Hades. Beneath the Bird of Paradise plants, moving from the “right” are sheep and the final layer of gold glitter, over the enlarged Polaroid bottom panel, is pierced by telephone cables that end in root-like cut connections.

Finally, in a historical context, I have always thought of the Fourteenth century as being a period of contrasts, chivalry and celebration bordered on confusion and calamity. In 1389, to celebrate the ceremonial entry into Paris of Isabeau of Bavaria, for her coronation as Queen of France, the city put on an event of spectacular splendor and unparalled marvels of public entertainment. In Barbara Tuchman’s, A Distant Mirror, the author writes of this extravaganza, “Though its cost contradicted the good intentions of the new government, the performance was in itself a form of government in the same sense as a Roman circus. What is government but an arrangement by which the many accept the authority of the few? Circuses and ceremonies are meant to encourage the acceptance; they either succeed or, by costing too much, accomplish the opposite.”

As a climatic ending to the richest extravaganza known in Western Europe, where wine filled fountains overflowed, festivities thick with cloth of gold, ermine, velvets, silks, crowns, jewels and all the gorgeous glitter that might puzzle the onlookers, “High on a tightrope slanting down from the tower of Notre Dame to the roof of the tallest house on the Pont St. Michel, an acrobat was poised with two lighted candles in his hands. Singing he went upon the cord all along the great street so that all who saw him had marvel how it might be.” The acrobat with his two Bicentennial candles reappears in the L.A. piece, singing as he tightrope walks from City Hall.

In closing, I might note that two months later, in 1389, the taxes were raised in Paris to pay for the cost of the celebration. Also, “In a manipulation of the currency to aid the cost, the circulation of small silver coins of four pence and twelve pence, which were the common cash of the people, was forbidden in Paris, depriving the poor for two weeks of the means to purchase food in the market place.” Who can say whether two weeks of hunger and anger weighed heavier in the balance than the miraculous vision of the acrobat on his tightrope?