November 30th, 2009 | Interviews

charles mallison

The Echo Curians came from planet Kansas and re-purposed a beauty salon on Sunset for even more unpredictable presentations of local beauty. They will show anything even if it weirds them out, and their newest art show involves a lot of moving parts. This interview by Drew Denny. L.A. RECORD apologizes for not posting this earlier because of getting hacked and other bad reasons.

Justin McInteer: Growing up, I’d always dreamed of living above a commercial space—having my own shop and living behind it. I happened upon this property eight years ago—it was a beauty salon and had been for fifteen years, so I just waited for her to retire. It really started as this open egalitarian organic form. ‘We know creative people. They don’t have a chance to show. So let’s just open this up and see what happens.’ Immediately, friends told friends who told friends and we were just saturated with artwork. We learned a lot in that process. Having gone to art school, we had certain biases about what made good work. We would get work occasionally in the early days and would be like, ‘Oh my God, are we actually gonna hang this on our wall?’ But sure enough as soon as we hung it up someone would come in from the neighborhood like, ‘I love this piece!’ So we learned that we knew nothing about judging art. We took judgment out of the whole equation and opened it up to be as egalitarian as possible. Everyone—whether they’re a professional artist or a kid from the neighborhood—has equal status when they’re hanging with us. It’s funny ’cause I look at what it is right now—what it is now is not what I conceived, but letting the public and the community drive this has caused it to be less meaningful to my original intention but allowed it to form in a way that is more meaningful to the community.
What was it like when you started?
JM: The first art show opened October 2005. We had three open-call shows—‘Anyone bring anything!’ Two or three musical acts per month then in January ’06 we actually opened up our first exhibition—that was when we first started doing our theme shows. That one was ‘Worms Save the Planet’ about vermiculture. We had working vermiculture bins in the space. How-tos about worms. We asked musicians to create songs about worms, and we released a worms CD and had art and buttons and video—
Grant Capes: The entire space was re-envisioned!
JM: Instead of taking the work we were receiving as raw material and hanging it in an interesting manner, we treated the walls. The whole space was painted as if you were underground. We had a 12-foot worm.
Do you still have worms?
JM: Oh yeah! I’m a huge vermiculture composter! I love my worms. At that point we had all been avid gardeners and composters but none of us had worms. Having a working worm bin in a gallery and musical space is kind of odd but it worked.
GC: So is having a fountain—for the ‘Home and Garden’ show.
JM: That kicked off the concept of sending out the theme. We are guiding, not curating! Not by any stretch of the imagination. We’re not working with certain artists and a theme and looking for work that supports our thesis. We’re simply putting out some kind of theme to inspire. We found that a lot of the artists we’re working with are not professional artists. They’re closet artists who make work but are nervous to show. Providing a theme just provided an outlet—they’re like, ‘Heck, I could do a kite! I could do a worm!’
GC: They might already have something like that in their arsenal and never thought people would be interested. It also gives us an interesting structural or architectural aspect—something to stitch it together.
JM: Having a space like this that actually has a substantial public audience—with the amount of shows we have now, we probably have 2,000 unique visitors coming in per month—it’s really amazing. Those are unique people. The music is so eclectic, and each band draws a different crowd. Same with the art. If we’re open about the art, it brings in all different crowds because there’s people of all walks of life who do art. It provides me with an opportunity to create an installation every month that will be seen by people. I remove myself—I don’t put my name anywhere but it’s a nice outlet because otherwise I’m redesigning rooms in my house all the time. And they don’t have the public exposure so it’s not as gratifying.
What kind of ideas are you working with now?
JM: I went through this phase where I was watching all time-travel movies—mapping out the ideas of time travel visually onto a surface so I could understand how these multiple realities could exist.
GC: We’re informed by Back to the Future.
JM: And this kids’ film—The Last Mimzy. It is such a brilliant film! I was like ‘This is what I’ve been thinking about for so long!’ It’s based off an old sci-fi book [by the awesome Henry Kuttner—ed.] and the visual effects are so good. It’s just looking at quantum physics, at hard science down to such a level until it becomes spiritualism.
GC: This is the time-space show—
JM: It won’t be so ‘carnival’ but there will be crank systems, motors, pulley systems running up the wall and the ceiling—it’s very animated. The group open call is ‘Whirligigs or Kinetic Work’ and can be fan-driven lumberjacks or flip books or mobiles or anything that embodies or uses movement. I had a friend who made a hand-cranked record player—it has two record players so you can do weird delays and stuff. I really have to wrack my brain about mechanics. I’ll design and build and be like, ‘Oh, shit—this doesn’t work.’ Then I have to figure it out.
GC: Our first open call shows, we encouraged people to bring whatever—not necessarily ‘art objects.’ It could be clothing they made or a map they drew—
JM: Buttons—anything—incorporate functional things! If you’re creative and you’ve done it yourself!
Is that exposure to the public and the creation of mini-communities the most exciting part of what you do?
JM: We’re not known as a gallery that sells work! Part of the idea of this space is to combat the ideas of art as commerce—and I’ve played that game. I was working a lot and showing in museums and I was really excited but it started to feel weird. I started to feel pressure to make certain types of work. As someone who’s been inspired by work that’s visionary or sort of outsider work, it felt so far away from what I wanted to be. Opening this was a way to combat that and allow people that opportunity.
GC: First-time artists like Michael Hsiung [also seen in L.A. RECORD!] came to us in the beginning and are now showing all the time. It’s nice they springboard into other galleries.
JM: We provide confidence. If it is this closet artist who’s been making things and is never really sure if they wanna show it or if they don’t know if there’s gonna be a good response—if they test it here and people are like ‘Oh my God, this is great!’ they feel so much more empowered.
What work do you wish you could say no to?
JM: The first was a bunch of women all bound up—like this bondage work. Neck to knees. It’s just stuff like that that I question.
GC: The funnest were a series by a guy who now describes himself as a Christian artist but he worked as a midnight clerk at a porno shop, and he did full on explorations of impossible sex acts with magic marker—they’re ten years old and the marker had faded in this really incredible way. He did really elaborate eight-way penetration images. We couldn’t say his name because he didn’t identify with the work anymore—but he really wanted to people to see it.