BLEEDING THROUGH LAYERS OF LOS ANGELES, 1920-1986 (2002, Interactive DVD-ROM and installation, with companion book)
After seeing our project with Pat O’Neill, Australian media artist Jeffrey Shaw proposed a collaboration between Labyrinth and ZKM (the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where he directed their Institute for Visual Media). Shaw proposed a loose adaptation of cultural historian Norman Klein’s, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, using contemporary images of Los Angeles shot by a German artist connected with ZKM. While we agreed to adapt Klein’s book, we insisted on generating our own images, using Labyrinth’s Rosemary Comella and ZKM’s Andreas Kratky as co-interface designers and co-directors.
Combining archival and contemporary materials, we created another postmodernist city symphony about Los Angeles, but in contrast to our earlier project on the Hotel Ambassador, it moved at a much faster pace. With Klein as a fast-talking boxed-in narrator whose commentary could be turned on or off, with a navigable interface whose speed could be accelerated by the user, and with then-now re=photography of the same urban sites creating the illusion of time-travel, the experience was as exhilarating as driving on LA’s freeways.
The project focused on a 3-mile radius near downtown LA, where the fictional character Molly is alleged to have murdered her husband and where the cultural diversity being documented is greater than in any other urban center of America. Visitors have the choice of reading the images (both stills and videos) against the fiction or the documentary, and they are compelled to see the ideological implications of their own choices and how easily the archival materials can be appropriated. One section reveals the documentary aspect of all fiction films, by reproducing many of the movie murders that took place there. Less susceptible to re-inscription, another section titled “People Molly Never Met,” contains testimonies by individuals from other ethnic communities that share this urban space—African Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Latinos. By choosing to focus on a Jewish protagonist like Molly, we had excluded these others—choices analogous to those in city politics that led to the destruction of Chavez Ravine in order to build a stadium for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The DVD-ROM was released with a slim book (of 65 pages), containing Klein’s fleshed out version of Molly’s story and brief comments by the collaborating producers (Shaw and Kinder) and directors (Comella and Kratky). When literary critic David Ulin reviewed the project favorably for the L.A. Times, he assumed the primary work was not the DVD-ROM by ZKM and Labyrinth but that slender book by Klein, which we had considered merely an afterthought. For him, the book was apparently more approachable and more familiar than the transmedia hybrid. But when the DVD-ROM was presented as an installation at ZKM’s “Future Cinema” exhibition in Karlsruhe, we felt our choices were finally being perceived.