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EXHIBIT : Criticizing Tradition That Is West Behind the Ears

March 05, 1992|MARY HELEN BERG | Mary Helen Berg is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

The installation notes for "City Library," an interdisciplinary exhibit at Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery, describe it as an imaginary cityscape that celebrates learning methods used by Los Angeles' non-Western immigrants.

But the installation of painting, sculpture, music, and other sounds created by Los Angeles artist Manuel Ocampo and musicians Annie Gosfield and Roger Kleier is not so much a tribute to the learning traditions of other cultures as it is a criticism of, and rebellion against, the Western tradition.

A quote from Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, which welcomes visitors to the exhibit, pretty much lays out what the installation isn't:

"When we say we will put America first," it reads, "we mean that our Judeo-Christian values are going to be preserved, and our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations, not dumped onto some landfill called 'multiculturalism.' "

Below the quote is a dedication to "the natives and immigrants of Los Angeles who have kept their cultures and traditions thriving despite hatred and adversity."

Curiously, the installation shares little of what those diverse traditions offer, apart from the music and sounds supplied by a rhythmic, multilayered sound-track.

The interactive exhibit does invite visitors to symbolically take control of their learning, through active participation and use of all their senses to absorb information. Amid the cityscape created from library bookshelves, card catalogues and encyclopedias, small signs instruct you to open a drawer or step on a rigged floor mat to trigger a recording of music, chanting or other sounds.

The point is to demonstrate music and sounds as alternatives to the Western tradition of learning through language and the written word, approaches that can't help but create cultural barriers. But the directions for the exhibit, like the maps and most of the fanciful books used, are primarily in English and must be read if you are to fully participate in the exhibit.

In some ways aggressive and angry, the installation also uses doses of distinctive humor to teach and provoke. Banners strung across the room boldly announce ethnicities that defy stereotype: "Chinese Sioux Indian," "Palestinian-Jewish-Arab-Muslim-from-Texas," "German Shepherd."

What: "City Library" exhibit.

When: Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through March 20.

Where: Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange.

Whereabouts: Take the Garden Grove (22) Freeway to the Grand Avenue/Glassell Street exit. Head north on Glassell.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to Call: (714) 997-6729.

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