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“Taking Care”: 6 Visual Interpretations at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

hollywood forever - take care exhibition

Photographic summary of installation art exhibit at Hollywood Forever Cemetery April 23, 2011. Featuring Matthew Lessner, James Fields, Matt Amato, Alexis Disselkoen. Photography by Danica Waters.

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Last Saturday, April 23, 2011, I spent a good part of the night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.  I was only one of an impressive number of folks who turned out to attend an installation art exhibit called “Explosions In The Sky / Taking Care:  6 Visual Interpretations”. The exhibit as a whole was set to the music of the band Explosions In The Sky; each installation piece was created in direct response to a different track off the band’s forthcoming album entitled Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Featuring artists Matthew Lessner , James Fields , Matt Amato, Jesse Fleming , Chris Lipomi , and Alexis Disselkoen , each piece was set in a different section of the cemetery, and each was a complete departure from the rest.

Needless to say, going to see installation art in a cemetery – in the dead of night – is an experience in and of itself.  The exhibit organizers played up on this, illuminating the vast mausoleum chambers with brilliant white lights at the far end.  To get to the installations, you had no choice but to walk into the light.  I made  my own journey down the cavernous marble hallways, following the backlit silhouettes of dozens of others before me.  I was completely aware that I was walking through chambers filled with hundreds of dead people,which should have been creepy.  Oddly enough, what I noticed was that the power of loving memory prevailed;  all of the flowers that had been left in the bronze vases in the mausoleum wall were glowing radiantly in the bright light ahead.  Even more strange, it felt better to walk with the silhouettes into the light rather than to turn around and return to the darkness from which I came.  Powerful stuff.  (And this little jaunt wasn’t even an installation piece.)

The first installation I encountered was by James Fields.  Set to the song “Human Qualities” several monitors were inset into empty slots in one of the mausoleum’s walls.  It was a brilliant collage of images that, to me, portrayed the infinite interconnectedness of human life.  Fields is a brilliant concept photographer and artist – check out his site.  The second piece I encountered was Matt Amato’s installation, set to the song “Trembling Hands”. It was a fantastic, technicolor dreamscape that transpired from behind the locked iron gates of a second mausoleum.  The projection contained whispers  of the four elements (earth, wind, water, fire) ,  and of the incredible nature and vast energy of the Universe itself.  Here, again, I had the odd feeling like I’d rather be “in there” than “out here”.  (No, I’m not depressed.  It was just really, really cool.)  I mustn’t have been alone in my thinking, because dozens of people of all ages and from all walks of life crowded together and laid underneath the warm, billowy, womb-like environment created by Alexis Disselkoen. Set to the track “Let Me Back In”, the craziest thing to behold from outside “the womb/cosmos/etc” was the look on the people’s faces who were inside the environment.    Utterly transfixed, they were restful and completely at peace with being sandwiched  human-to-human, at near-claustrophobic range between the graves that they lay on top of and the fibrous light show that they lay underneath.  No one was moving.  Again, I wished I was in there.

And then there were some installations that did not make me feel so comfortable.  Artist Jesse Fleming took us down darkened and much colder mausoleum hallways to a blackened chamber in his piece set to, oddly enough, a song entitled “Be Comfortable, Creature”.  At the end of the chamber was a simple projection of the numbers 1-5, slowly alternating up and down:  1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.  My first thought was “primary numbers – some sort of code”, and my second thought was “primary numbers – kindergarten –  dumbed down – we don’t know the half of what this Universe is all about”.  Still walking away scratching my head, I went to Jesse’s website at graylightstudio.com to see some more of his work in an attempt to get a better understanding of his mindset, and I came away enlightened.  A couple of the video pieces I saw left me emotionally unsettled- not necessarily in a bad way-  just unsettled, the same way I felt at the installation exhibit.   The best adjectives I can find are “lonely”, “otherworldly”, and “almost -unexplainable-kinda-like-crop-circles-and-UFO’s”.  Check out his work “The Desert” and you’ll understand what I mean.

Another unsettling exhibit was located on the far side of the cemetery.  Adjacent to the Fairbanks Memorial, artist Matthew Lessner projected a silent short film to the track “Last Known Surroundings”. The images portrayed the more forbidding side of the death experience, depicting a man who is desperately trying to escape the very earthly, Natural Forces of Death.  Lessner, who grew up in what is described as an “insular logging community of Roseburg, Oregon, USA… developed a taste for the unusual amidst the seemingly mundane.”  His work has been showcased at Sundance, South by Southwest and Clermont-Ferrand, among others, and he’s taken award after award.  No wonder his images spooked me.

The final piece in the collection was the work of Chris Lipomi, which was set to “Postcard from 1952”. I hate to say Lipomi’s work was forbidding. Actually, it was simply realistic, right down to the materials he used to construct the work.  Sans the bright lights and technological tricks showcased in the previous exhibits, Lipomi’s installation was set in two stages.  Each stage was constructed of nothing but simple railroad ties.  The first stage was set inside the small mausoleum where Rudolph Valentino is entombed.  Surrounded by gargantuan marble statues of various saints, the piece was composed of a single rough-hewn beam standing in the center of other beams which “fell”  out from the center on both sides, each beam depicting various stages of “rising and falling down”.  I perceived “birth-to-death” immediately, but what took a while to sink in was that the railroad ties, amongst the the marble-hewn saints, smacked of biblical reference to the death of Christ, it spoke of the awkward stiffness of our corporeal beings, as well as leading one to ponder the role of our physical body as a “mode of transportation” – i.e. railroad ties/getting from Point A to Point B/ etc. (especially against an exhibit title of “Take Care”).    Walking out to the second stage of his exhibit, I found railroad ties stacked up on four sides to create a rectangular sort of stairstep that stood about 3.5 feet high.  When you climbed the staircase, you were confronted with a completely black chasm, like a grave.  Although intellectually I believed without a doubt that there was grass at the base of that chasm, and it should have been only a bit over three feet deep, the experience of looking into that chasm was truly daunting.  But I was even more disturbed when my depth perceptions were proved wrong.  Funny enough, a group of twenty-somethings who’d had a bit much to drink happened upon the exhibit at the same time I was in the process of climbing the “stairs”.  One of the more inebriated individuals spontaneously decided to jump into the hole.  Not only did he find himself in over his 6′ head, but security admonished him to “GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT AWAY!”  The man was  suddenly afraid.  We were all surprised to find him in deeper than we’d anticipated, and thankfully he had friends to pull him out.   Such is an effective trick of the mind.  But it all goes deeper than that, I suspect.

In a quick search of the events of 1952, and also in tribute to the meaning of Explosions In The Sky’s last track “Postcard from 1952” this is what I uncovered:

February 26United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that the United Kingdom has an atomic bomb.

March 20 – The United States Senate ratifies a peace treaty with Japan.

April 23 – A nuclear test is held in the Nevada desert.

June 15The Diary of Anne Frank is published

June 19 – The Special Forces (United States Army) are created

August 29John Cage‘s 4′ 33″ premieres in Woodstock, New York.

September 2 – Dr. C. Walton Lillehei and Dr. F. John Lewis perform the first open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota.

October 14 – The United Nations begins work in the new United Nations building in New York City, designed by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer.

November 1Nuclear testing: Operation Ivy: The United States successfully detonates the first hydrogen bomb, codenamed “Mike”, at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean, with a yield of 10.4 megatons

November 4

wikipedia.org

That’s just a small sampling from a pretty packed postcard.

Sadly, I re-entered the last mausoleum to hear another older gentlemen exclaim, “That ain’t art!”.  Ahhh… but it is.  It just didn’t come in a shiny techno feel-good wrapper.

Hollywood Forever has become one of my favorite places to visit in Los Angeles.  I’ve been there so many times, the resulting photographs can’t be contained in a single blogroll, so I’ll do it in several consecutive posts.  I am completely enchanted, not only with the artists represented herein, but also with Hollywood Forever’s commitment to keeping the memories of all legends alive and present  in moments  of artistic exploration and celebration for generations to come.

Stay tuned…

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Truth Is Better Than Fiction

FREE DOWNLOAD – A couple of years ago I was asked to write a soundtrack for an independent film called “The Returning”. (www.thereturning.com) The producer wanted a modern score, filled with songs that would stand on their own. This song was written for a scene in which one of the main characters (a little girl who happens to be seeing a ghost – for real) is being evaluated by a psychologist.

Truth is better than Fiction by Danica Waters

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Artist Portrait Series #3 – Lee “Scratch” Perry

Known as the “Godfather” of Reggae and Dub music, Lee “Scratch” Perry flew in from Switzerland on his 75th birthday to perform at a private benefit concert held on behalf of the Project Rhythm Seed Music Foundation at the Culy Warehouse in San Diego. Joining the stage with London’s DJ Bailey, and San Diego’s International Rhythm Kings, Perry commanded the stage and rocked the house during his short set March 17.

While I had envisioned him as a much taller man, everything about Perry’s persona was larger-than-life and thoroughly steeped in mysticism and illusion. To “take in” Lee “Scratch” Perry required the full attention of all of my senses, starting with the immediately spiritual smell of incense that permeated the air the minute he walked onstage. It struck me as I was attempting to photograph him that every part of Perry that you could identify with as a fellow human being was designed to either shock you, befuddle and amaze you, or disappear altogether. His well-worn hands were smothered in enormous bauble-encrusted rings, and his eyes were constantly shaded by the brim of his well-decorated hat, which was pulled down low. His beard, which was dyed a bright iridescent red, was usually the only part of his face that was visible. Even then, he would tuck his chin down into the deep collar of his military-style jacket, thrusting his face into shadow and creating the illusion that all you were supposed to see of this performer was an enormous voice emanating from within a carefully decorated shell. It was a rare, mesmerizing performance. Happy Birthday, Lee.

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MaryAnne

From the archives…a softer country crossover-ish piece written as a teenage lullabye.

Maryanne by Danica Waters

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Six Rivers National Park, Northern California

These images were taken along Hwy 199, which stretches from Crescent City, CA to Grant’s Pass, OR.  It is some of the most breathtaking land  I’ve ever seen.  The water and the land contain high levels of Serpentine, which is a mineral that is strikingly gray-green in color.  High quality Serpentine is sometimes used to replicate jade in jewelry and art pieces – it is no wonder that the rivers that cut through the gorges here boast a deep jade-like hue.  Although the river runs hundreds of feet down steep gorges that are heavily shaded, at times the sun would find its way down the cliffs, turning the eddies into surreal-looking emerald-colored pools.

Highway 199 is mostly a narrow, two-lane, intensely winding stretch of road that cuts through a portion of the Six Rivers National Park.  While it’s challenging to drive, it’s even more challenging to keep your eyes on the road, as there’s so much to look at.  Thankfully, there are lots of places to pull off the road and explore.  One of the most fantastic and completely unexpected finds we made was a botanical trail that we initially thought would be a manzanita forest.  What we discovered was a Cobra Lily bog.  Otherwise known as “Darlingtonia californica”, the California Pitcher Plant (or Cobra Lily) grows in the middle of an otherwise “normal” looking forest.  Hundreds of stalks grow off of one main parent plant, and, each of the stalks looks exactly like a cobra ready to strike.  Each new “pitcher” twists itself in such a way while it’s growing that its final adult position directs its “hood” away from all the others, guaranteeing maximum insect-catching potential.

I could have spent a month on this one stretch of road…  maybe one day I will do just that.

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The Void

… a ghostly girl’s vocal abstract against strong sonic textures that remind me of really thick ocean fog.

The Void by Danica Waters

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High Octane

This is a soundtrack/trailer piece I wrote for a heavy-duty action sequence, complete with helicopters, unmarked cars racing through the city, and a sweeping view of a military warship in the San Diego Bay…

High Octane – abridged by Danica Waters

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Artist Portrait Series #2 – The Upside Down

Artist Portrait Series #2 - The Upside Down

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Launching Paper Cranes

After the 2004 tsunami that wreaked havoc and devastation on the people of Indonesia,  Myles Crawley wrote and recorded the song  Launching Paper Cranes. He asked me to add keyboards, my daughter Alana to add flute, and the whole family to sing backup vocals on the recording; it was a great way to make sense of the sadness we felt.   In light of recent events, our family offers this for free download as a memorial for the people of Japan.  We also hope that it acts as a renewed memorial for all those in the world who have fallen victim to disasters of all kinds:  natural disasters, terrorism, war, corporate neglect, environmental destruction, hate crimes… the list goes on and on.

I would like to add my own spin to the downloads that come from this site (and I have no way to track this, so it’s Scout’s Honor all the way):  if you like the song and download it, can you please donate a minimum of $1.00 US (or the international equivalent) to the American Red Cross (if you can afford it- if you can’t, please just download the song and send good vibes to Japan!!!).

xo

Launching Paper Cranes by Myles Crawley

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“Each Man’s Death Diminishes Me”

“I took my eyes away; we didn’t want to be reminded of how little we counted,

how quickly, simply, and anonymously death came.”

(Graham Greene, The Quiet American)


Yesterday, March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake shook Japan – it was the biggest seismic event in Japan’s recorded history. Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology reported that the quake, which measured 8.9 on the Richter scale, threw the earth off its axis point by 9.8 INCHES.   The US Geological Survey reported that the main island of Japan moved nearly 8 feet.

Like the rest of the world, I am haunted by the images of the devastation that ensued.  My heart aches for the people who have lost loved ones, for the tens of thousands of people missing.  Watching footage of the tsunami sweeping away ships, automobiles, homes, and entire buildings was a horrifying experience.  But it almost becomes too much to bear to contemplate the pain, fear, shock and terror of the thousands of people who were powerless to help themselves or others against the will of an angry earth.

After the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, I remember experiencing the same feeling of helplessness and despondency.  Stunned and emotionally devastated by the images we’d seen, my husband, my kids and I went down to the beach to try to clear our heads.  There, stretching as far as the eye could see in either direction up the Southern California coastline, were hundreds of altar-like memorial structures crafted from enormous bamboo fronds that had mysteriously washed up in tangled piles on the beach.   It was late in the day; there was no sign of the person or persons who had constructed the remembrances, but the message was clear:

We will remember. You are not alone.

We added our own bamboo memorial to the collection on the beach; the kids made little stone messages around the spires.  Days later, my husband traveled down the coast by train, and came home that night to excitedly report that the bamboo memorials stretched for miles and miles down the coastline.  It felt like hope.

Maybe time is circular; it’s been years since I looked at the pictures of that day, but the emotion and sentiments evoked by those simple structures many years ago, on a beach that is now many miles away, remain as pure and potent as they were then.  And the message is the same:

We will remember.  You are not alone.

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