Julie Tolentino‘s current multidisciplinary work glows at Commonwealth & Council, an arts space in Koreatown that is a combination short-term residency, studio, exhibition space, forum for dialogues, and workshop for cooperative knowledge and skill sharing. Gallery director Young Chung had followed Tolentino–whose most recent projects have been presented at Soma Arts, SF; UCLA Center for Performance Studies, MOCA, and LACE–and so over time the site specific works for Commonwealth & Council were conceived.
Sensing a staircase behind a wall during a visit to Commonwealth & Council, Tolentino worked with Chung, and indeed an interior, closed off, boarded up staircase, damaged by fired was revealed and restored, becoming the entrance to “Raised by Wolves” and the setting for Sky Burial. Gold threads form a geometric pattern that echos the stairs, now painted white, the color of mourning in Eastern cultures, with an occasional gold swath. A hole, drilled through the wall at the stairs’ apex allows the setting sun to illuminate the landing.
The next installation, Echo Valley centers around a bricked up window painted with a passage from Shame – A Collaboration by Kemper/Kelly; the passage discusses shame, being outcast, and shamanism. A wooden chair, wrapped in layer and layer of brown thread sits across from the window; another dangles in front of the text, which was painted by Becky B-Side–the chairs were built and wrapped in collaboration with Stosh Fila, aka PigPen (Tolentino and PigPen are frequently photographed by Catherine Opie and their portraits as a couple appeared in Opie’s most recent show at Regen Projects). Tolentino explains that, traditionally in the Philippines, when a person is very close to death, they are wrapped in a chair in a fetal position and placed at edge of valley filled with coffins, small coffins because each person has died int he curled position.
Death appears again in Smoke of Future Fires–and it is only natural for death to play a huge part in Tolentino’s work: The loss of so many to HIV/AIDS in a defining moment in American cultural and social history, and has shaped and informed art and politics over the last thirty years. In addition to her art, Tolentino, a founding member of ACT UP New York’s House of Color Video Collective, is the co-author of the Lesbian AIDS Project’s Women’s Safer Sex Handbook. She appeared in in Red Hot and Blue’s “Safe Sex is Hot Sex” poster and Gran Fury’s national bus campaign “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” in the early 1990’s. and in Madonna’s Sex book. Tolentino has performed with, among others, Diamanda Galas, Madonna, Juliana Snapper, Catherine Opie, Stosh Fila, Vaginal Davis, Rodarte, and Ron Athey (she is co-director, with Athey, of the Praxis Mohave Bootcamp for Performance Artists, a ten-day intensive workshop for international artists).
Smoke of Future Fires pays tribute to the practice of 81-year-old painter, Ken Warne who died in his Commonwealth & Council studio. The smoke from burning mugwort–used in moxibustion, a Chinese medical practice (Tolentino trained at the Pacific School of Oriental Medicine in NY, is certified in Thai Medical Massage, and is a Watsu® practitioner) and in Western magic to produce dreams and visions– fills the small studio and wafts through the entire complex; a taxidermy paw rests atop the glass altar.
As part of Raised by Wolves, Tolentino performs three times a day, Wednesday through Saturday, at 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm for groups no larger than 3, and reservations are required (at press time they may all be filled; email email@example.com for further details). The performances are interactive, each guest pulls cards with drawings that have been created by Rafa Esparza, Mark So, Catherine Opie, Taisha Paggett, Stosh Fila, Chloë Flores, Juliana Snapper/Miller Puckett, Jet Clark, Aliza Shvarts, Judie Bamber, A.L. Steiner, Zackary Drucker/Ellen Reid, Cyril Kuhn, and CW&C. Each card is prompts a musical program or cues a movement that Tolentino incorporates into a dance personalized for each viewer/participant and the small group as a whole.
It was deeply profound to watch and feel Tolentino create specifically for us, guided by prompts we had pulled; it was far more moving than a strictly choreographed piece, and the exchange of energy and reactions between Tolentino and the three of us seated on platforms made me cry; Tolentino’s movements, and connection with each and all of us was palpable and poignant, at times humorous and delightful, and so special, unforgettable
Whether you are able to get to see a performance or not, I urge you to visit “Raised by Wolves” and Commonwealth & Council to see Tolention’s installations and also the visit Patricia Fernández’s ongoing installation, Box (a proposition for ten years), a sculpture for Commonwealth & Council that will be exhibited with its contents as they accumulate every year for the next ten years. CW&C is treasure, a unique arts complex that fosters vision and encourages manifestation. Get on their mailing list, support them. They are magical.
Julie Tolentino, “Raised by Wolves, through May 4
Patricia Fernández, Box (a proposition for ten years) ongoing
Commonwealth & Council
3006 W 7th St #220
Los Angeles CA 90005
Exhibition Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, noon – 6pm
Performance by reservation only: firstname.lastname@example.org