Spotlights

As many in LA know all too well, art acts as an excellent source of relief from the anxious feelings in daily life. 

Expression through any medium can ease the stress of personal problems or existential concern over a seemingly crazy, unchangeable world. Whether making political commentary, exploring the mysteries of life or just making something beautiful, artists help guide communities through turbulent times with their work—allowing people to channel their fears and reassess problems after seeing them in the new light artistic statements provide.

Aidan Nelson and Alaia Parhizi, directors of the Wönzimer Visual Arts Center on Olive, recognize that power. Since July, Wönzimer—which means “living room” in German—has been one of (and briefly the only) arts space open for in-person showings. Because of their independent operations, Nelson and Parhizi went directly to LA’s Department of Public Health to approve their reopening. 

“We’ve been able to conduct five openings and closings since July,” Nelson said. 

After that approval, Wönzimer played host to a series of exhibitions, including one titled “Blackness.” The event honored Black art, featuring creatives based in LA, New York, Virginia Beach and London, among other cities. 

But the Wönzimer directors had a special impetus to display this global work. In May, at the height of the protests following the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, looters hit the gallery. Following a particularly intense day of conflict between protesters and law enforcement, a group of people looking to capitalize on the turmoil roamed the streets of Downtown. After breaking into a neighboring liquor store, the band of nearly 100 people sacked the galley, smashing the windows and causing damage inside the space.

“They were just a collection of people looking to exploit the opportunity,” Nelson said. “We wanted to take it from another perspective instead of exploiting (Black artists).”

That experience inspired Nelson and Parhizi to host the exhibition, recognizing their own ability to give artists, especially those who are traditionally disenfranchised, a platform to express themselves in these chaotic times.

“We want to be an all-inclusive space,” said Parhizi, who also deals with artist relations, about featuring timely exhibitions. “For the future, if we’re looking back, this will be a very important time.”

Such timeliness characterizes Wönzimer’s upcoming opening: “The Edge of Order.” Coming November 1, the audio-visual experience was created primarily by artists Christina Craemer and Todd Williamson but also features sonic contributions from Parhizi himself. It aims to capture the current collective state of anxiety by studying an interplay between order and chaos. 

“All the work is very abstract, which plays into the chaos of things, but it’s also very controlled,” said Nelson of the avant-garde work with a “classical sense.” 

The exhibition will be made up of large paintings, some with a projected visual overlay. The design intends to capture the constant balancing act in these troubled times as we fight between chaos and order. From the ongoing pandemic to the aforementioned protests and the upcoming elections, Nelson and Parhizi recognized the undeniable distress so many currently feel regardless of their particular opinions. 

So, the pair turned to the work of Craemer and Williamson. While longtime friends, this exhibition marks their first collaborative project. But both work in abstract but extremely deliberate strokes. 

Despite their similar work ethics, the two bring distinct energies. Craemer’s work consistently focuses on waterfalls, a graceful motif defined by smooth motion. In contrast, Williamson’s style bears a “masculine energy,” according to Parhizi. The balance between these styles adds layers to the baseline exploration of chaos. While the entire exhibit abstractly plays into these associations, the artists actually painted on wooden panels being used to board up the gallery starting the first week in November, an implicit anticipation of the chaos of unrest.

Still, even as they comment on the current state of the world, the Wönzimer never seeks to make firm institutional political or religious statements. Instead, the directors stressed their dedication to pure creativity and the inclusivity necessary to celebrate it in all forms.

“It’s not needed. It can be beneficial to make a change that someone wants, but in the art world, it seems like it’s something that’s the responsibility of the artists,” said Parhizi about political statements from arts institutions and artists themselves. “But I think (artists’) responsibility is to be creative, not to take a stance for other people. The art is beyond, I think, an opinion.”

Viewers can come to the Wönzimer through December 1 to interpret this chaotic exhibit. And they can rest easy with the arts space’s commitment to safety during the pandemic, featuring measures that go above and beyond the recommended health guidelines. With limited capacity, temperature checks, complimentary masks, sanitizer and social distance markers throughout the gallery, Downtown residents and people from all around LA can let off some of their anxiety with “The Edge of Order’s” prescient and beautiful display.

“Historically speaking, it’s really that this is an unprecedented time. If we look back at any important artistic movement, it’s always been at (these times),” said Parhizi of the current global landscape.