During one of her courses at UCLA, South Korean artist Eunhae Grace Yoo was challenged to step outside her comfort zone and create a work of performance art. She used the assignment as an opportunity to explore the psychological pressures she lives under as an undocumented immigrant.
For DREAM act, Yoo laid a large piece of fabric across the floor and covered it in hollowed-out, ink-filled eggs. As she walked across them, the eggshells broke, covering the fabric in ink-stained footprints. With each step, she recited the text of the Dream Act Application form.
A relic of that performance — two large curtains of fabric covered in broken eggshells and ink blots — now hangs in the windows of a tiny gallery hidden just off the main tourist strip in Hollywood. It is on display as part of “The Origin of Species,” a show curated by an immigrant, in a gallery run by an immigrant and featuring the works of 10 immigrant artists.
Noysky Projects is the creative playground of artist couple Sean Noyce and Katya Usvitsky, who use the space as a studio between shows. It’s a unique location. Situated on Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Vine, the neighborhood is dominated by kitschy tourist shops filled with airbrushed tees and gimmicky restaurants specializing in overpriced beers and bad burgers.
To find the gallery, you’ll need to enter a small walkway off the main strip that leads to a surprisingly idyllic, century-old courtyard with a small fountain. The secret garden walkway is home to an eyebrow-threader’s shop, a used record store and Noyce and Usvitsky’s small gallery.
For “Origin of Species,” a show that runs through Dec. 3, Mexican curator Marco Hermosillo chose to highlight immigrant artists whose work has affected him and helped him understand his own “immigrant condition.”
Noysky Project’s gallery is impossibly small. Yet somehow, in just under 300 square feet of space, Hermosillo has managed to organize a thoughtful, meaningful collection that explores the immigrant experience through socioeconomic identity, belongingness, language and labor.
In addition to the relic of Yoo’s DREAM act, there are sculptures, video installations, drawings, interactive performative works, photographs and ceramic works on display.
Iranian artist Saba Hakimi’s Memory overload stands tall at the center of the space, a sort of totem structure covered in handwritten Farsi. The biographical text explores her dual identity as an Iranian living in the United States.
A series of framed passports from around the world, stamped with the image of the Statue of Liberty and the text “Colonia Libertad,” line one wall. They are part of an interactive piece by Mexican artist Oma Pimienta in which visitors can use an iPad to “apply” for citizenship in Pimienta’s idealized Colonia Libertad, the name of both a real place where Pimienta grew up and an imaginary country that offers its citizens “free movement along the entire Earth’s surface, marine or aerospace.” Applicants are even encouraged to leave their passports in a clear, plastic dropbox to be stamped.
Israeli artist Barak Zemer’s large, vivid photograph of a beautifully stacked “sculpture” of bologna is displayed on the opposite wall. The image speaks to the abundance of processed foods that overwhelmed Zemer when he came to the United States, as well as his attempt to grasp and understand the landscape of his new home.
You’ll need to look closely at some of the works in this show to really see them. One piece — They Do by Mexican-American artist Jackie Castillo — is easy to miss. A visitor on opening night nearly mistook part of her installation for a trashcan where she could toss an empty beer can. Situated behind a door, a small bin of crumpled papers hides a projector that flashes a square foot of video onto the bottom portion of the wall. At first glance, the flickering image looks like a housefly, but when you allow your perspective to adjust, you can see that the image is of a windowwasher working late at an art school building. The piece contrasts manual and intellectual labor, and the immigrant’s experience with both.
“Origin of Species” is a small show in a tiny space, but the artworks displayed here deserve attention. There are rich stories behind each of them, and they are stories that now, more than ever, must be seen, heard and absorbed.
Noysky Projects co-founder Usvitsky immigrated to the United States with her family from Belarus. She laughs when she tells the story of how her family arbitrarily chose Cleveland as their American home.
“My whole paternal side of the family was moving and they were asked, ‘Do you want to live in Brighton Beach or Cleveland, Ohio?’ My aunt thought Cleveland sounded like a nice word. That was literally how she made that choice.”
Now in Los Angeles, Usvitsky is excited that she has again landed in a bizarre American location. “It’s wonderfully strange,” she says of the gallery and the show they are hosting. “We’re really in the Times Square of Los Angeles, with the tourists and the noise, but in here is our little oasis.”
“The Origin of the Species,” Noysky Projects, 6727⅞ Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; through Sat., Dec. 3. noyskyprojects.com.