An ongoing series of installation diaries for exhibitions at ICA LA
There are few things as stressful for a curator as installing an exhibition—particularly when said exhibitions are a part of the inaugural season of a museum’s eagerly anticipated and highly visible reopening. Since beginning the process of hanging our first shows in late July, when Sarah Cain first alighted the scaffold to make her ambitious new site-specific work Now I’m going to tell you everything, the final preparations for our September 9th opening advanced at breakneck speed—wrapping up the publication for Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation; launching our brand new website, courtesy of our friends at Linked by Air; and finishing touches on our new home.
The calm before the storm (aka installation)…
Unless noted, all photos: Jamillah James/ICA LA
The two fall projects, Sarah Cain’s outdoor work and Abigail DeVille’s first LA solo exhibition were my two contributions to our opening season, after a year of not installing any exhibitions and being fully in research mode. This time last year, I was in the process of either installing or de-installing three separate exhibitions— wrapping up my last projects for the Hammer, as well as a guest curated exhibition. I feared the complex “muscle” involved in hanging exhibitions—flexibility, patience, quick thinking and decision making, among other soft skills—may have atrophied in the year I spent mostly reading, writing, studio visiting, traveling, and seeing shows. It took all of five minutes, a cup of coffee, and sliding into my “installation sweatpants” to get back into shape. Pacing, pointing, grimacing, and making runs to Home Depot are as much a part of my curatorial process as editing and refining checklists and trying out one layout after another in a scale model. However, Sarah and Abigail’s projects allowed me to the opportunity to stand back and observe—rather than moving around and working with existing objects—providing support and an extra set of eyes as these new works were produced entirely onsite.
First day onsite working on Sarah’s Now i’m going to tell you everything, after the weatherproof canvases were mounted onto the primed brick wall.
Sarah’s painting installation in ICA LA’s Courtyard is her second public work in Los Angeles, the first being hey babe, take a walk on the wild side on the facade of the Hollywood based nonprofit Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). This being our first project outside, there were considerable lessons learned on how to tackle our generously sized, challenging 40 by 20 foot project wall. Sarah worked in extreme heat and haze for two weeks solid, facing a brick wall that transformed more and more by the day by her gestures and movements. With each layer—first the stretched canvases and vinyl flooring, then the painting and manipulations of the canvas (braiding, tearing, covering, exposing) and the wooden bench—Sarah’s process revealed itself as both improvisational and deeply intentional. Surprises abounded in the final days of the work’s making—the sequin book bags for one, a find while replenishing spray paint at the neighboring art supply shop. Also, finishing ahead of schedule, always a dream scenario for realizing best laid plans. What initially was a harebrained scheme (activating all corners of the museum, even the outside spaces) was pulled off in remarkable time, thanks to Sarah’s dedication and aspirational powers of concentration and endurance.
The Project Room ahead of Abigail DeVille and Jonathan Bruce Williams’ arrival. The steel rods at left were used to fabricate the steel skeleton at the center of No Space Hidden (Shelter).
Abigail DeVille arrived in early August to begin collecting and sourcing materials for her installation in the Project Room, No Space Hidden (Shelter), followed by the arrival of a frequent collaborator who worked on site to fabricate the central structure of the exhibition—a room-sized steel vortex—based on Abigail’s sketches. After several weeks of running around LA and farther afield collecting discarded materials—wrought iron fences, mannequin parts, shopping carts, chicken coops, broken toys, just to name a few—Abigail and a small crew of production assistants got down to the business of an intensive, all hands on deck flurry of production. Abigail has a remarkable ability to edit down a refined selection of materials from an immense amount of stuff, acting first as a prospector or archaeologist, then an archivist, before moving towards a mode of production not unlike curation, especially since research does figure heavily into her practice and does inform some of the composition.
One of Abigail’s first days sourcing materials for No Space Hidden (Shelter) Photo: Abigail DeVille via Instagram
The foundation of the installation was prepared intricate hand labor—the assembly, painting, and puncturing of the cardboard boxes that line the room; the manual slicing by razor of the black asphalt paper that curls around each structure; and the painstaking preparation of the ceiling canopy, made from a layer of tarp and trash bags the artist stabbed to give its tattered effect, done to create a filter for the room’s ceiling lights, casting prisms of light reminiscent of the night sky throughout the space. After days of sorting and selection, the individual sculptures in each of the Project Room’s corners began to take their monumental shape, followed by the hanging of some eye-catching objects on the room’s central fixture. Taken as a whole, the installation is its own universe, one which collects the memories and presence of the many people whose objects have been skillfully repurposed and re-contextualized by Abigail.
Process shot of the steel armature at the center of the installation during construction. Photo: Jonathan Bruce Williams
Now that we’ve been open for a little over a month to the public, it has been a real treat to watch people engage with three exhibitions we have on view with great enthusiasm and interest. Of course, there is generally a little bit of sadness when an exhibition comes to a close, as these will at the end of December. However, these shows will always have a special place in our heart and history as an institution as the ones we celebrated our new beginning with, and how we welcomed back old friends and made new ones in our first season as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. I look forward to sharing more installation diaries as we move forward with our new and very exciting program and hope that you will visit this season to see the shows for yourself! Stay tuned for the second part of this installation diary, a special playlist of songs selected (not curated, ahem) by yours truly.
More from behind the scenes…
Art handlers Spencer and Douglas cleaning up after hanging the canvases on the exterior wall.
Sarah and Christopher lay down a gray-pink wash on top of the canvases, the first layer of color. Photo: Sarah Cain
One of Sarah’s weekend progress reports: the next layer of color and the bench before it got the all-over treatment. Photo: Sarah Cain
Sarah really getting into it—the next layers went pretty quickly and manipulated subtly, particularly the pink.
The first manipulated canvas appears—the folded, tucked piece closest to the 7th Street gate.
Trusty paint buckets from Home Depot!
Winding down install, with the bench in place, Christopher working high up on the scaffold. Photo: Sarah Cain
Abigail and Pilar take a trip to Compton to pick up chicken coops from a Craigslist free listing. Photo: Abigail DeVille via Instagram
Jonathan’s work station in the prep room—a table for his laptop to consult construction plans (and play classical music), a spot welder, and other tricks of the trade. Cameo by the official trash cans of ICA LA.
Beginning to move in materials to build out Abigail’s installation, with the skeleton, or “black hole” in plain view. An interesting contrast—the white cube with the installation materials lined up neatly against the walls, before AD got down to site-specific business.
Temporarily storing some of Abigail’s materials in the shop, before it was the Shop (and the Dosa pop-up)
One of the first days of installation, once some of the larger materials were organized and sorted. The first layer was constructed of chicken wire connected to the steel skeleton and attached to the three walls of the Project Room for Abigail and her team to build onto and mount the painted cardboard boxes.
The canopy is up! Photo: Abigail DeVille
Some of the first boxes go up; you can really see how the canopy transforms the lighting in the room. Photo: Abigail DeVille
More boxes go up (and Pilar goofing); this was one of the more challenging and time consuming parts of production. The boxes, collected from around the museum, were flattened, painted with oil-based house paint (Abigail wanted the smell to linger in the room), then poked with scissors and knives, and marked with chalk before being attached to the chicken wire and backlit. Photo: Abigail DeVille
Lighting test behind the cardboard boxes, to see if the effect Abigail wanted would work (of course it did!) Photo: Abigail DeVille
The team worked in low lighting, given the installation elements, for several days while the remainder of the cardboard boxes went up. Abigail wanted the Project Room to become a “black hole,” in keeping with her ongoing research and earlier works.
An email from U-Haul, one of many rented to help Abigail collect and move materials—this one in advance of Burning Man, when 17 foot trucks were a hot commodity.
Process shot of one of the first “totems” built, the sculpture at the left of the entrance to the Project Room. This is before the black flooring, made from sheets of asphalt paper, were laid in by the crew.
Getting down to the wire, Brian hanging objects from the canopy.
The assembly line set up in order to give space to Abigail to work in the Project Room and have all of the objects she collected visible in order to choose and compose the final elements of the installation.
Process shot of the back wall, with clothing spilling out of the painted boxes.
With all the totems completed and the central armature partially dressed, Abigail, Pilar, Aubrey, and Diego hard at work, doing finishing touches and hanging household items from the ceiling canopy and the “black hole.”
Special thanks to Sarah Cain, Christopher Garrett, Abigail DeVille, Jonathan Bruce Williams, Pilar Gallego, Aubrey Lynn, Brian Carbine, Laurent Alberti, Camille Schefter, ICA LA’s Curator’s Council, and Team ICA LA for making these projects possible.