Los Angeles

Maria Nordman

315 N. Alameda/166 N. Central

The announcement for this installation, sponsored by the new Museum of Contemporary Art, was typewritten on plain white paper. With a verbal precision and conciseness typical of the artist, it read, “MARIA NORDMAN L.A./YANG-NA. In the center of Los Angeles a place is being opened all the daytime hours: On its east side: 315 N. Alameda (just south of Temple); On its west side: 166 N. Central (north of First Street); June 8 5:41AM–8:03PM 1983.”

From this simple description it is evident that time and space/place were central concerns of the piece. The location was in the downtown section of Los Angeles (whose history was evoked by the term “Yang-Na,” an old Native American name for the city). This part of town is undergoing rapid transformation; the ephemerality of historical continuity has often been noted as characteristic of Los Angeles, and a sense of the city’s shifting identities was inherent in Nordman’s installation (the industrial building whose use for one day Nordman negotiated with the city is destined for demolition). Her announcement’s precision as to location calls particular attention to the nature of the place.

The temporal parameters of the piece, “all the daytime hours,” set a framework for it of 14 hours and 22 minutes, requiring the viewer’s attention during a limited space of time and so eliciting a more concentrated awareness than is often given to “static” artworks, an awareness more associated with performance. Nordman’s use of the present passive tense of the verb “to be” in the announcement deemphasizes the active presence of artist or museum in the project, leaving the role of direct participant for the viewer. The month chosen for the work, June, is that of the summersolstice, the period with the greatest number of daylight hours in the year. Nordman’s installation, then, alerted the viewer to both particular and universal timeframes.

The building that Nordman opened has a large square door on either end of a 260-foot-long corridorlike space supported by two rows of square columns. From the Alameda side visitors passed through a freestanding handmade frame that stood like a gate to the space. Nordman’s beautifully polished and stained plywood frame, fitted together without nails, was the only handmade element in the installation, a reference to craft and tradition framing the passage into a space exemplifying urban neglect, decay, and destruction. Inside, the building was dark, and the floor was flooded with water which reflected the bright doors, dissolving the barriers between inside and out, up and down. The depth of the water was visually indeterminable because of the reflection. As one walked through the space, one’s feet became soaked; as one sat on carefully placed, brightly painted wooden chairs, one’s clothes got wet. The dark dankness in the setting of industrial decay had an ominous beauty, like the sets in the movie Blade Runner.

In contrast to the dim interior, however, the doorways to the street at either end were brilliant beacons to light and air. Like the time limits of the piece, they were framing devices, framing views of the world outside. Traditionally the frame has been essential to the definition of the artwork, establishing its territory and sharpening one’s focus on it, but in Nordman’s work the same scene that one saw framed was also reflected at one’s feet.

What does all this fusion/confusion of outside and in, here and there, up and down, art and the world, immediate and universal suggest? Perhaps that the dualistic oppositions we use to separate concepts are more inherent in the structure of language than in actual experience, which in any specific moment can yield a more holistic, relativistic understanding of the nature of things.

Melinda Wortz