Jennifer West: Future Forgetting
Jennifer West’s exhibition Future Forgetting, curated by David Matorin and currently installed at JOAN Los Angeles, is an ode to the iconic Los Angeles Sixth Street Bridge. It is also West’s first solo show in her hometown in nearly eight years. Her homage to the late landmark comprises a film, sculptural “analogital” (West’s term for her hybrid video-films) flat-screens with found objects, a zine, and other objects that document the process of her project. The show documents the life of the bridge through film, archival materials, and cinematic history, ruminating on the constantly changing architectural landscape of cities and how we forget monuments of our collective history. Presented in JOAN’s one-room exhibition space, the show is engrossing and not nearly as overwhelming as one might expect a multi-dimensional moving-image based exhibition to be. The space, dimly lit, flickers with pink, yellow, and blue toned light as the works that inhabit the space draw one’s attention in a demure manner. Moving from flat-screen to projection to zine, the most rewarding part of West’s show for a native Angeleno, cinephile, or architectural aficionado, is discovering the local history that West embeds throughout each element of the show, weaving together a complex history of the late bridge.
Known for her experimental materialist films, West’s exploration of the Sixth Street Bridge began in 2016 when she heard of the city’s plan to demolish it due to its inherent structural instability. Infamous for its cameos in over 30 Hollywood films, like Grease and Repo Man, music videos, and commercials, the bridge became a celebrity in its own right, known for its archetypal arches. When the bridge was set to be closed to the public and demolished, West, among dozens of other Angelenos flocked to the viaduct to shoot footage of the historic site one last time. West’s footage, all shot on 16mm film, results in a nearly 10-minute long document of the last few days the viaduct access point was accessible, shot at all times of day. The result is an evidentiary document of the late landmark.
6th Street Bridge Film (2020), the focal point of the exhibition, is a meditative, dream-like sequence rippled with film discoloration and deterioration marks that speckle the film like sunspots, adding an ethereal quality to the image. In typical West style, she “marinated” her film, unearthing her footage after a few years. West and her collaborators (studio assistant Lucie Birney, photographer Abigail Taubman, and curator David Matorin) returned to the viaduct and dragged the film through the river water in multiple trips. The resulting submerged film, altered by the river water itself, serves as an index of the site, as if evidencing the existence of the bridge. Two black-and-white photos hung across the gallery record West’s process. Referred to as performance prints, the double-exposed images are repeated in sequence, like a film strip, concretizing the conceptual crux of the exhibition and the source of its title: Future Forgetting. It comes from Norman Klein’s concept of the constant forgetting of cities and erasure of memory through urban renewal. As the image is repeated, parts of the image appear to disappear and fade into nothingness.
Expanding on her material excavation of the life of the LA River and its bridges, West also sourced discarded objects from part of the LA river near the Arroyo Seco trail. This part of the trail, in the Highland Park area, has long been an unwitting trash depository, especially for electronics—discarded in the river to avoid costly electronic waste fees. One of the more common objects West found in her walks along the trail were flat-screens: the once-coveted luxury domestic technology, which has over the years become cheaper and cheaper until considered disposable. Collecting broken flat-screens and other dated electronics (CDs, boomboxes, electronic keyboards, etc.), West amassed a trove of electronic remnants which she composed to create what she calls a “media archaeology” project. The resulting works are a series of flat-screens, installed on the floor to be viewed from above, mimicking how West found them in the river. The screens play a loop of short videos documenting the objects that are then placed on top of the screens, creating a self-referential loop between recorded image and physical object. The screens flicker magenta and teal, the result of a glitch when processing the film to digital video. The objects that sit atop the screens are arranged by size and type, as if found in an archaeological dig. These are West’s most sculptural works to date and the first time she has intentionally used monitors in her work. Archaeology of Smashed Flatscreen Televisions Thrown off Bridges (2020) highlights urban detritus to remind us of our accelerated technological waste. Some of the objects, CDs and stereos in particular, speak to the recent pre-touch screen past when more analog technologies still demanded a human touch, a touch that we are slowly also forgetting.
The exhibition ends with a series of handmade glass jars that hold film strips from West’s film as well as faux filmstrips of iconic movies shot at the Sixth Street Bridge. The glass jars act like screens themselves, enlarging the images that float in them, and are filled with river water, again replicating the process of West’s filmmaking. Next to the jars is a long table, atop which sits a zine that similarly documents the history of the bridge and the making of West’s project. It is teal and purple, resembling the color of the flat-screen videos, and is presented upright, the pages undulating in an accordion manner, like river water. West often makes zines for her exhibitions, a further testament to her penchant for the analog and ethos of DIY. West’s project, summarized in her zine, traces an urban archaeological study memorializing a significant aspect of the city landscape and acts as a material memento of recent history already at risk of being forgotten. West’s poignant commentary on the ever-accelerating culture of urban renewal feels urgent in this particular moment when city life as we once knew it is changing suddenly in the blink of an eye.