“Los Angeles is the greatest City-on-the-Shore in the world; its only notable rival, in fact, is Rio de Janeiro … and its only rival in potential is, probably, Perth, Western Australia.” – Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 1971.
‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’ writes Joan Didion in the now famous opening lines of her book The White Album: a collection of essays that attempt to describe the social and political scene in California in the late 1960s. Such stories – recounted anecdotally, broadcast publicly, or promulgated culturally through literature, film and song – help to shape personal mythologies, local folklore, and contribute to defining a sense of history and place. What is the role of the artist in propagating, interrogating or subverting these narratives, and how can art contribute to shaping or reflecting the character of a city, time or place?
Love in Bright Landscapes takes its title from the name of a 1986 album by former, now cult, Perth band The Triffids – a group that has contributed much to the city’s narrative of wide open roads, treeless plains and the relentless heat of a long, dry Perth summer. But this evocation of love – and with it the possibilities and pitfalls of infatuation and romanticisation – in a landscape stretched out beneath an expansive bright sky, might equally apply to an understanding of Los Angeles: a city that itself has long been steeped in lore and myth. As such, this exhibition considers Perth and Los Angeles as comparative case studies, bringing together a selection of artworks made in reference to the characters, qualities and topographies of the two west coast cities.
Despite their inherent differences – in industry, scale, population, politics, public perception and self-image – and the distinct independent cultures of each city, Perth and Los Angeles share several commonalties: from indigenous and colonial histories to natural resource booms, sprawling suburbia, car culture, blazing sunsets and seamy underbellies. Frontier cities, bordered to the west by ocean, and separated from the east by desert, mountains and plains, both have a sense of freedom and of being self-contained, yet also remote and isolated. Being defined in opposition to larger, more established cities – as Los Angeles is to New York, and Perth to Sydney or Melbourne – creates a sense of adolescence: a perception of young cities still in search of themselves, all the while quietly, determinedly, knowing exactly who they are.
Through the work of artists living, working, hailing from, or passing through both cities, Love in Bright Landscapes explores the possibilities of contemporary art in contributing to these ongoing stories of identity, purpose, presence and place in the cities of Perth and Los Angeles.