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The Festival That Defies Description

'Air Raids' aims to cover the wide range of experimental media work. Just what that is can be elusive.

November 05, 2000|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

Don't be fooled by the neat little catalog for "Air Raids," a monthlong, citywide festival of experimental media arts. All 60 events--film and video screenings, multimedia installations, video-accompanied bus tours, performances, Web sites, television shows and related programs--are listed in the 5-inch-square booklet. But they can't be contained--or easily explained--on paper.

"No one can understand the media arts; they never get it," says Anne Bray, director of L.A. Freewaves, a multicultural arts consortium that has produced the festival since 1989. Inspired by artists' use of video and originally presented every 18 months, it is now a biennial event that also embraces "new media"--generally defined as digital imagery produced by computers and other devices.

Undaunted by the difficulty of organizing the unwieldy event and explaining it to a baffled public, Bray has watched the festival evolve into an untraditional local tradition now in its seventh incarnation. "It's actually been inspiring me, not just exhausting me," she insists.

Nonetheless, she hopes that an addition to this year's festival--three videotapes produced by L.A. Freewaves for public television--will make "Air Raids" more comprehensible than its predecessors. "Each of the half-hour videos contains portraits of about five L.A. media makers," she says. "They have very different subjects and ways of working, so the programs should give people a detailed idea of what's going on and some insight into what we have been doing for the past 10 years."

The first two videos, featuring artists who work primarily in video, will be aired on KCET at 11 tonight. The third tape, on artists who work with computers and the Internet, will appear next Sunday, also at 11 p.m.

Another way to get a grip on "Air Raids" without trekking to 31 galleries, museums and other venues is to go online. "I really recommend visiting our Web site [], because it's a very detailed sampler with lots of imagery and video clips," Bray says. "People are at work, at home or in their cars at all times, so we are trying to accommodate that."

Those who take her advice will find information about 13 film and video screenings, each of which presents the work of several artists or groups under a thematic umbrella, such as "Chicano Visions" or "(Un) Democracy: Issues in Labor." "Baroque in Modernity," a program that points out connections between contemporary art and works made in the 16th century, offers Audrey Chung and Bekkah Walker's "Institute Pavlova," described as an ironic pictorial fantasy narrated by an unconventional God.

A group of video works that explore the commodification of sex includes Laura Purdy and Kristy Guevara Flanagan's "Blow Them Up"--an expose of the life and death of an inflatable sex doll. In a screening featuring remakes of classic stories, "Moses @ Luxor," a video by Michael Masucci and Kate Johnson, Charlton Heston meets Jimi Hendrix in Las Vegas and urges the musician to accompany him to a gun show.

Each of the screenings is intended to present a stimulating spectrum of genres and approaches to a particular topic, Bray says. "I don't like divisions drawn sharply between activists' work and narrative and animation and art. If you see too many art pieces or animations or documentaries in a row, that part of your head is just clogged. But if an animation is next to an art piece, next to a documentary--all on the same subject--you get a multifaceted perspective."

Although video screenings dominate the festival, the program also offers installations of projected images, bus tours related to videos on Los Angeles sites and "Ad Vice" video billboards by Tony Cokes, on the Sunset Strip and in Koreatown.

Two other events can be seen in cyberspace. "Street Action on the Superhighway," a hybrid live-Web group exhibition, will be presented at UCLA's EDA Space on Friday at 6:30 p.m., but it also can be viewed on the Freewaves Web site. So can "Search & Retrieval--'information-navigation-as-art,' " a collection of works that grapple with computer-age communication, at the California Museum of Photography Nov. 18-30.

The finale of "Air Raids," on Dec. 2 from 5 to 10 p.m., will be staged at the Vermont Music Cafe, a karaoke club in Koreatown. Those who attend can view festival tapes they may have missed and a special menu of tapes by Korean Americans.

The festival has changed considerably since its inception in 1989, when Bray decided to create a mechanism for bringing video artists together. "About 40 of us got the program going and curated it in a very collective process," she recalls. "We pulled off 330 tapes in 80 locations and put stuff on cable. It was very wild, but we learned some things. One is that people are only interested in a certain range of subjects, so we decided to curate programs for different audiences."

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