Sticking with the concept of “where the streets have a name, and a pretty good one at that,” I found myself last Friday in downtown Los Angeles walking the really very short distance between Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street to Traction Avenue. Unlike some fancily named streets there’s plenty of interest in both these places.
Ellison S. Onizuka was an American astronaut of Japanese descent, who was one of the crew of seven who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. That’s him above, standing beside a model of the shuttle. And here in Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street there’s a very much bigger model:
It looks good, even reflected in a puddle in the rain. Yep, it rained in L.A. last Friday:
Traction Avenue is in the Arts District, a terrible name for a district if you ask me – as though art needs to be corralled into some ghetto. In any case we’re given to understand that artists can’t afford to live there anymore.
Of course the whole area has art coming out its wazoo – graffiti, street art, decorated dumpsters (I intend to publish a short monograph – or at least a blog post - on “the decorated dumpster”) and murals of course. There’s this one of Ai Weiwei:
And I thought this was very fine, and a new one on me, a kind of totem pole made using rubber tires:
This part of the perambulation was something of a delaying tactic. I was in downtown to take a look at the Triforium, a piece of “polyphonoptic” sculpture, built in 1975, with 1,494 multicolored glass cubes designed to glow in synch with music from a 79-note glass bell carillon. It’s located well outside the Arts District.
It’s the work of Joseph Young, and it’s located in the unexotically named Fletcher-Bowron Square, and actually sits on top of the incredibly bleak Los Angeles Mall. The mall’s architect Robert Stockwell was responsible for commissioning Young. These days the whole place looks like the mall that time forgot.
I admit that until recently I’d never really been aware of the Triforium, and the Angelinos I’ve talked to, the ones who have any opinion about it at all, seem to regard it as a likeable, though unserious, 1970s folly, and I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually saw it in full functioning son et lumiere mode. It’s certainly been neglected, and by some accounts it never worked properly even from the beginning. It was, arguably, ahead of its time and required some serious computer technology that it didn’t have.
On the other hand, the basic structure seems to be in pretty good shape and if you stand in the right place as the sun is going down you can see those glass cubes glow (kind of), although last Friday the sun was long gone before I got there.
This was a special day for the Triforium, a 40 year anniversary, and there was to be a “launch party” for its restoration. Festivities started at 4 pm, and when I arrived, at 4.30 or so, a dj was laying down some cosmic space rock but the Triforium itself was unlit. I assumed they were keeping it this way so that at some point it could be turned on, lit up and the music would be pumped through it. Was this terribly naïve of me? Perhaps, but I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopes.
Some official-looking young uns were sitting at a table in the square, and from time to time people would come up to them and say, “So when do you fire it up?” And the reply was that they weren’t going to fire it up. The Triforium doesn’t work, not the sound, not the lights, nuthin. Which was why they were having a fundraiser. Oh. I was not alone in my disappointment.
But at least I did get to step into the Triforium control room. It all looked very Cold War. The guy there said they’d had in various electricians and computer guys and none of them could make the thing work, and as far as I could tell they didn't know how it had ever worked. But as one of my fellow visitors pointed out, the system must be in some sense “on,” since there are glowing lights, so obviously there’s power getting in there, and somebody must be paying the electricity bills. How does that work? I have no idea.
Among the crowd was top LA photographer and visual chronicler Gary Leonard, a pleasantly chatty man, and he said he’d been there in 1978 for John Cage’s 75th birthday party. Did Cage perform or conduct or use the Triforium in some way, I asked. Maybe 4'33'? No, said Gary, but there was cake:
As I slipped away the Triforium looked like this:
The Triforium Project website is here: