Albert Reyes constructed the installation “The Only Thing That Can Kill Us Is Death” for one evening at VexArts on Oct. 23, 2013. The plywood contemporary art piece winds the viewer through about a third of the performance space. Paintings and illustrations are clustered together, phrases are written on the walls in pen, some sections are lit with a dim glow or red light, and others are almost entirely dark. Plastic bags nailed to the sides may brush against you, and occasionally a child in a mask or adult dressed in black will spring out and scare the bejesus out of you.
The last time I walked through one of Reyes’ conceptual art mazes, it was in Little Tokyo a couple of years ago at the Japanese American National Museum during one of their evening events. I remember being pushed by a mob of fellow museum-goers through each turn of the piece, hanging tulle ensnared those that walked past in some spots, I was cramped, closed-in and surrounded by sweaty people in a narrow space. It was claustrophobic. His illustrations and paintings, almost haphazardly arranged around the walls, which normally I would spend some time taking in, flashed at me, but the crowd pressed me forward. The maze became a shadowy cattle run, and as awful as it could have been, the press of humanity made it amazing. Immediately after exiting the piece I was ready to do it again, but the crowd prohibited me.
This time, at VexArts, it was far less packed. If Reyes took a liking to you, he would escort you along with a few other people to a bare concrete basement with the absolute minimum of light and tell you a spooky story about the ghost of Mickey Mouse until his friend jumped from where she was hiding in the shadows to startle you. If you were lucky enough to experience this, it was a highlight. In the maze itself, his friends and family tried their darndest to elicit screams from participants.
Shown in the photo, Reyes poses with his appropriately attired mother, one of the “Boo” shouters. This close-knit nature of the event makes you think of the backyard haunted mazes which traditionally spring up around the Halloween season in Los Angeles.
There’s a sublime moment around every turn when someone steps from a dark corner and makes you want to pee yourself with terror, then the ludicrous nature of this then hits you when you realize that “someone” was a seven-year-old girl. Usually the same little girl, who would take her mask off and whisper, gleefully, “Did I scare you?” after you jump.
When the adrenalin eases, you can take a moment to soak in more of Reyes’ illustrations and paintings. Imagery from comic books, pop culture, Los Angeles, street art, beautiful women and the more dark and macabre things in life show up in a lot Reyes’ work. His next contemporary art maze, which will probably occur about this time next year, is not to be missed.