A Tabernacle in February and the Inner Revelations

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LA is both flashy and mysterious, a place where the shallow and the hidden feed each other. A 10-minute walk south of Darth Vader’s cement autograph in front of the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater — assuming you’re dumb enough to walk all over LA — puts you right in the middle of an arts district tucked away between gas stations and warehouse facilities . “This is really LA,” says Linnéa Spransy, director of Bridge Projects. “Things off the street don’t show up for what they are.” The difference between the city’s gated studio lots and cutting-edge art galleries is that you can walk right into Bridge Projects’ 7,000-foot, warehouse-like space on Santa Monica Boulevard , assuming you know it’s there.

Bridge Projects “explores art history, spirituality and religious traditions,” says Spransy. The gallery opened in October 2019 after its founders realized Hollywood was never as godless as it seemed. “There’s a history in LA where spirituality and religious experience in general was kind of enterprising,” Spransy says — true enough for a city that’s home to thriving megashuls, the Scientology Celebrity Center and an astounding density of occult bookstores. Bridge Projects’ next show, which opens in early April, will feature 34 artists exploring the broad and chilling theme of the afterlife; Her last program dealt with the artistic legacy of the Black Pentecostal Church.

The theme of the gallery’s current exhibition is unlikely to be Sukkot. Entitled “We’re All Guests Here,” it opened around the same time as the holiday season last fall. Seven artists, all of Jewish background or identity, were invited to create works dealing with the various themes of Sukkot: pilgrimage, homeland, wandering, protection, security or, in the case of SaraNoa Marks, glass water clocks and pottery, the precariousness of depending on rain to survive. The building of sukkahs, Spransy notes, is a community-wide annual art project. “In a way, you’re making a sculpture that you can live in,” she explained. “It’s not passed down to the priest class. You build it yourself, that’s art. It’s a really exuberant transformation of space.”

In some cases, the performers have changed the meaning of the annual festival in ways that will likely spring to mind when the tabernacles go up again this fall. In a work entitled Sukkah of the Signs, the couple, who work under the name Rael San Fratello, paid homeless people in and around San Francisco for their handwritten pleas for help. The patchwork of cardboard rectangles forms a towering four-sided structure that extends to the gallery’s only skylight. “We tried to make this a little kosher,” Spransy said.

Some of the homeless signs adorning the walls of the Tabernacle contain pithy appeals to conscience: “Dare to share,” reads one. Others try black humor: “Money needed for alcohol research,” says another, with the words next to a drawing of a lab beaker. A few are snapshots of real people in a heartbreaking state of transition: “Turning my life around! Need help getting to San Antonio, Texas.” In its entirety, the Tabernacle is a chronicle of a pervasive moral scandal and its human cost, the temporary structure that serves as a spiritual and aesthetic vehicle for questions affecting residents of the many American cities with growing needy populations should haunt and shame—including Los Angeles—where sidewalk tents have become an inconspicuous aspect of life seemingly throughout the metro area.

Rael San Fratello.  Sukkah of the Signs/Homeless House, 2021. Media: Purchased and collected signs from the homeless, wood.

Rael San Fratello. Sukkah of the Signs/Homeless House, 2021. Media: Purchased and collected signs from the homeless, wood.Robert Wedemeyer

In contrast, the branches lining the four walls of the installation are the only overt reference to Sukkot in Adam W. McKinney’s interdisciplinary Shelter in Place, a reference to the Tabernacle roof. McKinney, who is both black and Jewish, posed for photographs at locations associated with the 1921 lynching of Fred Rouse in McKinney’s home of Fort Worth, Texas. Using an augmented reality smartphone app, a visitor can bring McKinney to life. The artist who portrays the murdered Rouse launches into a grueling series of dances, falls to the ground in front of a police station and tenses up in an overgrown graveyard as if his soul is about to leave his body.

On the opposite wall, McKinney is split between two video channels, dancing comparatively unperturbed, as if finally nearing a conditional and uneasy peace with the story he’s been trying to bring back to life. In McKinney’s interpretation, then, the Tabernacle represents protection from injustice and a place where unexplained stories can be expected. That the reckoning was happening here and now, in a semi-hidden Hollywood art gallery, made the experience of McKinney’s work all the more unexpected and overwhelming.

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