On Monday, May 10, 2021, a small audience entered the central courtyard at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles at around dusk. Folding chairs were arrayed in pairs and singles across the yard, and a fractal drift of plain white sheets of paper peppered the ground. They were all blank. A piano waited flanked by concert screens as the sky slowly darkened and leaned into its few chilly stars. A gentle wind kicked up. This was the setting for a unique collaboration across disciplines, mediums, continents, decades, and even, in a way, the afterlife.
They were filming a live performance orchestrated by the legendary artist David Hammons for a video work which debuted on the gallery’s website, made in collaboration with L.A.’s favorite avant-garde music salon Monday Evening Concerts, in which the artist restaged his iconic performance/installation Global Fax Festival. In 2000, Hammons suspended nine fax machines in the cathedral-like architecture of the Crystal Palace in Madrid, activating the space with faxes with incoming messages from all over the world, which would float down to the ground and accumulate “like soft winter snow” for five months. Toward the end, Hammons and titanic experimental composer and conductor, the late Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris did an improvisational performance on the site — a seminal work in a process Morris called Conduction. The performance has now reached 21 years into the future to be recreated in a technology-assisted homage and reboot that pushes those same interdisciplinary boundaries even further.
Morris died in 2013, but in the new event his music was performed by pianist, composer, professor, and Morris’ one-time bandmate, Myra Melford. The main piece was a version of “Dust to Dust,” a 1990 recording by Morris on New World Records. The three towering screens played Global Fax Festival excerpts from Madrid, in 2000 and reimagined internet footage of Morris at work. It was synced up and improvisational at the same time, and to the evocative near-illusion of on-screen faxes falling to the real ground, was thereby added the near-illusion of Morris conducting Melford from another dimension.
Taking place in the same setting which hosted the wide-ranging Hammons survey in 2019, which was itself dedicated to the music legend Ornette Coleman, the reconfiguration of a major piece for a new cultural landscape made perfect sense. The use of technology was as present in the sense of a spectacle as the assembly of a full orchestra had been in Madrid, but in the uncanny, eccentric way of mediated images and collapsed time-streams. The haunting, adventurous music itself anchored the presence of the audience in a rather liminal space of attention while also being suitably strange and elusive.
The pages, which were blank and clean when audiences arrived, soon became patterned with overlapping footprints, creating a physical, if abstract, record of our gathered presence. At the very cusp of the return of post-pandemic life, this ordinary act of sitting for a performance suddenly seemed an occasion worth chronicling, and an experience worth absorbing in every slight and grand detail. It was also even more poignant within the swirl to consider loved ones, now absent from the world or at least long-absent from our sight, with a heightened sense of time’s passing.
As the performance (repeated twice with slight variations) extended, the energy of communication between the screen and the setting, the past and the present, the meaning and the future grew more and more palpable. In the audiences from 2000 one could observe on-screen, their attendance was understood as forever part of the document of what transpired there; the L.A. audience was acutely aware that their attendance too was part of the staging for today’s cameras. In the intervening weeks since the concert, an original film has been made, chronicling all of this and more besides and beyond it, which we all will witness for the first time together now. ❖