Architect Richard Neutra shaped the minimalist aesthetic of Southern California Modernism — simple, sleek lines that subtly delineate the line between indoor and outdoor space and stretch out like horizons reaching for the sun at dusk.
The creative artists of homeLA and literary journal ENTER>text took a similarly minimalist approach to activating Neutra’s one-time residence and design laboratory — the Neutra VDL Research House — earlier this May with their collaboration “One House Twice.”
Dancer and choreographer Wilfried “Willy” Souly slunk between the slats of the VDL’s exterior, emerging from its louvers to splash and swirl in the pool of water next to the house’s entrance. Like the VDL’s façade on Silver Lake Boulevard, he seemed to stop traffic, stilling the loquacious crowd outside the home’s doors to silence.
Then bbmoves’ Bernard Brown, wearing a coquettish grin and a frilly apron, invited us in and made his way straight to the kitchen, where —using the countertops and the refrigerator door — he appeared to bang out some veiled frustrations.
If Brown’s tiny tantrum is a metaphor for that housewife ennui that Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” in her book “The Feminine Mystique,” then Emily Meister and Gema Galiana’s “resonance in the residence” on the second floor living room of the VDL House is a long exposure of that syndrome.
Symptoms slowly unfold as the two women sink into the house’s window sills — nothing but a languid lethargy compelling them to push their jewel-toned flats off their feet onto the floor and sulk in their Mad Men-style skirts.
“When the husband’s away at work and the kids are off at school what is there for a lonely woman to do?,” their movements say, embodying the boredom and inertia of Friedan’s brooding housewives.
The voice of artist Erin Schneider, reciting lines from Neutra’s books and manifestos, accompanies Meister and Galiana’s mirthless motions from one resting place to the next — slumping on the couch, relaxing in a recliner, crossing one’s legs on the coffee table.
That sullen mood shifts into surrealism when Meister and Galiana come together, joining hands and tying their locks into a single, shared ponytail.
They seem like Siamese twins until they detach—their strands of hair stretching between their heads like filaments of tissue tearing apart.
A pulling-your-hair-out kind of madness plagues them — possibly cabin fever or a more sinister lassitude. It rears its ugly head when Meister smashes her face into the blue bowl on the round coffee table, or smothers her visage with a yellow pillow.
She doesn’t make a sound, but her actions echo like a silent scream.
Fortunately there are nooks and crannies to find respite within. A venture to the third floor penthouse provides a refreshing view of the Silver Lake Reservoir, as snippets from Emerson Whitney’s poem “Infinite Alterity Forever” play from a laptop hidden in a nearby storage closet.
“How to live in-between and boundless?”, her pre-recorded voice muses. It’s a fitting query for the view — huge panes of glass and a reflecting pool seemingly stretching to infinity with no edge in sight. The penthouse feels like a floating oasis in the sky, blurring the line between indoors and outdoors.
Text artist Morgan Green creates another island of tranquility and disorientation in a small spare bedroom back on the second floor, reading a poem about the intricacies of the human body and its various anatomies — the insides of the heart, lungs and more.
“Living was once the frustration of my opacity,” she says, her soothing voice belying the disconcerting nature of that thought.
Even so, something about being in this house at this moment makes you feel a little bit more alive.