By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
There are no tubas in artist Alison O'Daniel's in-progress film The Tuba Thieves — at least none you see in full. You occasionally get glimpses of mostly shrouded instruments, as in the first scene, when two culprits leave a high school in dead of night, carrying unwieldy objects in black bags. "It was fascinating that the thieves wouldn't take the cases," O'Daniel says of the real-life burglars who were the basis for the film. They began their tuba-taking rash in 2011, hitting schools from Manhattan Beach to South Gate. "I think it was just easier for them not to."
After L.A. Times reporter Sam Quinones wrote a story exposing tuba thefts in Southern California, O'Daniel sought him out and spoke to him, then found some affected band instructors, too. No tubas have been replaced or retrieved. Schools don't have budgets for this, and LAPD doesn't prioritize the problems of band rooms.
"I just kept picturing these sad tuba players sitting there during band practice," O'Daniel says. "It became a metaphor or springboard. This is the most powerful sound, and it's disappearing."
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In her film, the tubas appear at intervals like a refrain, popping up every so often in a story that's mainly about the interactions of Nyke Price, a deaf drummer who practices in an office above the ice rink her Zamboni-driving father smooths. Her hearing boyfriend, Nature Boy, and father, Arcey, often sign with her, and she occasionally encounters former tuba player Juan, who has spent band practice on homework since the thieves robbed his school.
O'Daniel, who sculpts and works cinematically, graduated from UC Irvine's MFA program in 2010 and completed her first film two years later. She spent most of 2012 and 2013 exploring one idea: What happens when access to some sort of sensory experience is taken away, when a sound disappears?
The result is a collaborative, multidimensional, multimedia project that includes commissioned musical scores, delicate sculptures and, of course, the screenplay and film, which she will shoot one scene or a few scenes at a time, as she secures funding.
The Tuba Thieves' Scene 29 — The Plants Are Protected is the only scene that exists thus far. It plays alongside some of the sculptures O'Daniel made while honing the screenplay in the group show "Rogue Wave," Venice gallery L.A. Louver's semi-annual emerging-artist survey.
Another suite of lighter, more ethereal sculptures by O'Daniel is featured at Samuel Freeman Gallery, in a solo show titled "Quasi Closed Captions." They look as if they are meant to be used, maybe for fishing, music making or some kind of electronic transmission. Some hold plants; others mimic the shape and size of speakers; others are vinelike things made of triangles and hanging chimes.
These sculptures don't reference the tuba thieves in an explicit way, but the two exhibitions are connected. "When making objects," O'Daniel says, "I think cinematically — about color, tone, feeling, shape," and, in this case, about sound. She crafted these objects for the most part in Provincetown, Mass., while in residence at the Fine Arts Work Center there, making them while listening to the scores that will accompany Tuba Thieves. The show is called "Quasi Closed Captions" because they work as captions are supposed to, translating the experience of sound into another medium.
She also used a grant to commission three composers — painter-musician Steve Roden and composers Ethan Frederick Greene and Christine Sun Kim — to make music in response to lists she sent them, containing items such as the pattern a Zamboni makes on the ice, and the dramatic eyelashes of sculptor Louise Nevelson. The music, which can be heard in part in the scene screening at L.A. Louver, worked as a road map: O'Daniel listened to it almost exclusively while working on her sculptures and screenplay, which means the resulting productions are translations and responses to sound. It's the score of Kim, who unlike Roden and Greene is a deaf composer, that features most prominently in Scene 29.
O'Daniel, who is herself hearing-impaired and wears a hearing aid, met Kim while making her previous film, Night Sky. In the gallery, the film would screen over two nights, each with live accompaniment. One night, musicians would perform a score composed by Greene. Other nights, it would be a "sign score" developed and performed by Lisa Reynolds. Kim knew Reynolds and helped her hone the score.
"It's like a hypersensitivity to a lack of information," O'Daniel says of the impulse behind her work. "I'm compelled to be very sensitive to the little spots of life."
Artists' obsession with perception and its nuances manifests in different ways. In the 1960s, when light-and-space artists and minimalists hit their stride, there was an interest in compelling audiences to "perceive themselves perceiving," to borrow words from artist Robert Irwin. Carefully crafted disks, scrims, light spaces or ambient sounds dispersed through white rooms aimed to compel people to notice themselves in relation to their environment in ways they hadn't before.
But now, the perception-interested work that feels most relevant explores the limits or gaping divides separating one person's experience from another's. Eddo Stern, for instance, created an immersive video game that sight-impaired people can play alongside seeing people. Megan May Daalder's Mirror Box is worn by two people who try to line their eyes up with one another's entirely in order to see their faces merge, so they become physically one with someone they're not. (Daalder actually appears in Night Sky.)