Jasmine Nyende was 12 years old when she started fiddling with her family's video camera. These early experiments inadvertently chronicle her childhood in Leimert Park, a neighborhood that's seen a lot of change in the past decade or so. Now 23, the performance artist is weaving the footage together with poetry about her past as well as social media postings that represent other people's perceptions of her past for a program at Art Los Angeles Contemporary this weekend.
“I’m relating this idea to the media I was producing — the statuses, the photos, the media I am making as related to me growing up in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles as a cultural capital, and myself as cultural capital,” Nyende explains. “The play is called Lost Angles, and it plays off of Los Angeles and camera angles and this idea of something getting lost in translation or something that is hidden — maybe a view that we usually won’t see.”
Nyende usually includes herself in her work, which includes both her online and offline activities. Her interest in deleted statuses on social media sites points to the performative nature of these platforms, which viewers and participants have a naive tendency to take at face value.
“I feel like [the idea of deleting posts] reminds people of the performance element of social media — it’s not always there,” Nyende says. “One thing that I work with a lot in my work is memory. The algorithm will remember that status. Or there’s some type of archiving website that will remember that status. But my newsfeed won’t see it anymore.” Though she’s working with this idea of re-performing past social media statuses, Nyende says that, when she was initially approached by ALAC curator Marc LeBlanc about the performance, she immediately knew that she wanted to make work about Los Angeles, a city that is well represented in the popular imagination.
LeBlanc’s vision for ALAC’s programming centers around Los Angeles as a city that is constantly reimagining itself: “The 2017 programming schedule reinforces the notion of Los Angeles as a city whose newness is contingent upon a continual retelling of the past, a constant rerun of the same sequences within increasingly sophisticated yet dissonant new mediums.”
Nyende's program has been paired with a screening of Rick Prelinger’s 83-minute silent film Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles (2015). The film splices together scenes of L.A. from the 1920s to the ’60s from Prelinger Archives, founded by Prelinger in the ’80s. (He's done similar projects on other American cities, such as Lost Landscapes of Detroit and Lost Landscapes of Oakland.)
Veggie Cloud, an ongoing series of film screenings, talks and lectures by Kate Wolf and Courtney Stephens, organized the Prelinger screening, which is extremely participatory. Stephens says, “Rick narrates throughout with what information he has learned about the footage or places, but the audience usually is brimming with their own information and claims: ‘That's Flower Street!’ ‘No, it's Grand!’ So each screening is a different event based on the dialogues that evolve during the film, often with a wealth of local knowledge being exchanged.”
Nyende’s performance, on the other hand, is narrated and executed by her alone. Her more fragmented landscapes, woven as they are into her experimental play, form a curious juxtaposition with Prelinger’s film, which consists of slow-moving clips of the city. The camera follows closely behind a 1930s-style car as it rolls up and down the streets, winding around what appear to be the hills of Silver Lake. A camera does a long pan of streets in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1929. The 110, 2 and 5 freeways look empty and sprawl gorgeously into the distance — nothing like the nightmare of bumper-to-bumper traffic that people experience during rush hour. These shots set up Los Angeles as a place made for driving, though there’s also grainy footage of the trolley system that once existed. The iconic red streetcars as they’re seen in 1958 make Los Angeles look almost like San Francisco.
Yet not every image scene is about transportation and landscape, two things that often define Southern California. In one scene, a Japanese American Citizens Lead Convention filmed by Carl T. Harota, D.D.S., in 1938 shows smiling faces of Japanese-Americans, and then later cuts to a scene of people holding signs with names of cities in California. The lost landscapes of L.A. are not just of the cars and streets, they are of the people as well, the groups that — as Nyende hints in the description of her performance piece — present a view that may not always be immediately visible.
Jasmine Nyende: Lost Angles, Sat., Jan. 28, 4 p.m.; Rick Prelinger: Lost Landscapes of L.A., Sat., Jan. 28, 1:30 p.m.; ALAC Theatre, Barker Hangar, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. artlosangelesfair.com/events.