Draped behind a grey curtain, the static of 17 lined up televisions visually and audibly laces a dark room, buzzing and flickering for no one.
This is “Situation of Time,” just one of Argentinian artist David Lamelas’ many pieces in Cal State Long Beach’s University Art Museum for Pacific Standard Time’s Los Angeles / Latin American exhibit.
LA/LA, an art exhibit event highlighting Latin-American artists, spans more than 70 venues across Southern California. CSULB’s University Art Museum contributed to the cultural art show with Lamelas’ exhibit, “A Life of Their Own.”
The exhibit consisted of photo galleries, illustrations, sculptures and demonstrations using televisions, papers and chairs.
Kristina Newhouse, the “Life of Their Own” exhibition coordinator, first became enamored with Lamelas’ work when participating in a satellite exhibition for the first PST and describes him as the quintessential PST artist, due to his background and influences not being exclusively tied to Latin America or Europe.
“He’s never been quite pinned down,” Newhouse said. “You have this idea of someone who is post-national.”
UAM had plans in the works to participate in LA/LA when Museum Director Kimberli Myers was hired in 2016, she had previous experience putting together galleries for the event.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity to think of all the art and all the cultural activity that takes place [in Southern California] from Latin-American artists,” Meyers said. “With California, we are a 40 percent Latinx state. This is so much a part of culture that has been ignored, that’s now coming into its own in-terms of recognition.”
Lamelas describes his work as transcending outside of his original artistic vision for it to take on its own life, hence the name of the exhibit.
“The work should not be dependent on me, they should have a ‘Life of Their Own,’” Lamelas said.
“Rock Star (Character Appropriation),” one of Lamelas’ more well-known photo essays on display at the UAM, is based on the media representation transcending the truth of the image on display.
Inspired by the ‘70s period of iconic rock such as Led Zeppelin and Queen, Lamelas commissioned London rock photographer Johnny Dewe Mathews to take mock-documentary-photography meant to create a visual record of a concert, a rock star and an image that never existed. The shots consist of Lamelas standing on a coffee table in front of a black sheet while holding an electric guitar, which he didn’t know how to play.
Lamelas describes this work that he produced in 1974 as evolving into reality.
“Everybody is making a self-portrait of themselves and they are making themselves look the way they wish they were,” Lamelas said. “That’s a kind of character appropriation.”
Newhouse further elaborated on this media transcending representation by explaining that at the time Lamelas commissioned the photos, and certainly now, fame can be achieved through sheer force of will.
“[Lamelas] said to me that people have so embraced this narrative that they say, ‘Oh, I remember when you played that concert.’ There never was a concert.” Newhouse said.
He expanded upon this meta-phenomenon by explaining Andy Warhol’s influence throughout contemporary advertising and conceptual art’s overlap with high fashion.
“Art is the seed of ideas, adapted by society at large.” Lamelas said. “The function of art is to create new seeds.“
One of the event workers, Helgard Niewisch, describes the beauty of art as finding meaning within it and within ourselves. On meeting Lamelas for the first time, she described these pieces as not feeling truly real until you are in their presence, living a life of their own.
“When [Lamelas] speaks, everything comes alive.” Niewisch said. “We see a piece of art [that] often we don’t understand, becauses it’s a thing, it’s a line or it’s a description. Whereas when he is with it, [he] holds your hand and says, ‘yes, I’m here,’ [and] everything is alive.”
He described the ideal viewer of his work as active and yearning for meaning.
“It’s up to the spectator to find the piece he or she finds interesting to think about,” Lamelas said.