by LARA J. ALTUNIAN
[dropcap]As[/dropcap] you approach the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences on Silver Lake Blvd., you will notice that the entire building is naked. Its curtains are typically pulled back, exposing the cubed glass structure to plenty of natural light, which then, seeping into the house, bounces off of indoor mirrors — making everything look transparent. The building’s architecture is suspended in time with its mid-century frame and furniture — a piece of art preserved, and quite singular, in much the same way as the performance that will take place there this weekend.
One House Twice is a collaborative performance by homeLA and ENTER>text happening at the Neutra space on May 6. Much of the site-specific work is based on the elements that played a large role in shaping the house — primarily, the surrounding nature — which inspired Richard Neutra, its architect and former resident.
Originally built in 1932 to serve as Neutra’s family home, the VDL (additionally named after Cees H. Van der Leeuw, who provided Neutra with a loan that made construction possible) has since been donated to Cal Poly Pomona. Sarah Lorenzen, who became head of the architecture program in 2007, moved into a garden house (erected on site in 1939) and immediately took on the main task of revamping the space. According to Lorenzen, the building was in bad shape, crumbling in areas due to intense water damage. Aside from historical preservation, she says, there was a very important reason to renovate.
“The advantage [is] to have this as a cultural space,” she explains, which is what the home officially became in 2010, mounting installations and projects inspired by or responding to the space, its architecture, or its architect. “The thing about a house is that, once it loses its [function] as a house, you have to fill it with something else. The house actually survives because of the ways that it’s used.”
Sound is the first thing that engulfs you upon reaching Neutra’s front door for One House Twice. Mak Kern encourages you to spin her large metal wind chime sculpted with mosaic glass that glows in afternoon sunlight near the entrance. Inside, Priyanka Ram is playing Neutra’s wife Dione’s large piano. The open staircase and thin walls allow melodies to carry through hallways.
The patio is full of chatter and cocktails. Clear liquid is served in Emily Marchand’s handmade cups of ceramic and other earthy materials — grounding participants into the natural setting outside. Henry Hoke, co-founder of ENTER>text, may make eye contact with you through a mirror in a corner of the garden adjacent to Ashaki M. Jackson’s poetry reading. His beckoning look pulls you away from the house toward the reservoir, which is now slowly being filled again (alluding to Neutra’s 1930s setting captured in his design), its reflective surfaces illuminated by sunset.
“The water is built into this house. The front of the roof connects to the reservoir, and it’s actually all about that: things coming in, and the nature becoming the house,” says Marco Didomenico, ENTER>text’s co-founder, referring to both the pool on the third floor and the VDL’s overall structure. “I feel like that’s one thing we’re doing. We’re bringing in people from around this cultural community and filling the space. A lot of what Neutra built here is what we’ve come many years later to respond to.”
Didomenico and Hoke started ENTER>text after meeting in grad school at CalArts. The idea behind their live literary journal was, according to Hoke, “to create a space for writers that was a little more… performance-based” in order to “activate the audience.” Their first event took place in 2011, and the company has since evolved from producing in a warehouse (formerly Didomenico’s home) to featuring their work and their artist collaborations in various locations.
Similarly, homeLA often presents works of “public dance in private spaces” — as described by founder Rebecca Bruno. The company’s first formal event took place in 2013 at Mount Washington and, since then, they have had regular performances in homes throughout the Los Angeles area. homeLA’s shows always center around dance and sound components but, much like ENTER>text, often include handmade props and video components — like the ones Bruno herself will be incorporating into her piece in the second story kitchenette.
Next to a shelf full of Dione Neutra’s favorite pieces of pottery is a temporarily installed TV screen displaying images of hands opening and closing, as if molding urns the Neutras have left behind.
“I thought about food and the kind of activity that emanates out into other parts of the house,” says Bruno. “What is a container? What is a container for a dancer? What is a vessel that can contain dance?” Bruno chooses to focus on these questions by incorporating wooden butterfly sculptures and making vase-like shapes with her hands in the prerecorded video that accompanies her routine.
The tour continues. The living room contains two women; Emily Meister and Gema Galiana are dressed in contrasting primary colors and explore — through a series of emotional duets — what it means to be a 1960s woman, expressing through movement the feeling of being “trapped.” They run down hallways that lead to two other bedrooms — Morgan Green performs a reading about death and ghosts in the smaller chamber, while the master bedroom is where Wendy C. Oritz’s silent dream diary ventures into unknown secrets.
All around — on every floor, every balcony — there are performers flowing through the space like water, creating a reservoir of art. You might uncover new things at each turn, each trip into a new room, but only in the span of one evening in one home on a bushy road in Silver Lake.