Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Bright White Underground, 2010. Installation view. All images via Country Club Projects.
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s Bright White Underground weaves myth, history and experience into a compelling and memorable site-specific installation at an iconic Los Angeles residence. The Buck House itself, an achievement of American Modernism, participates in the installation’s nod to sixties psychedelia in what might be more appropriately labeled an experiential and temporal collage. Traveling through Bright White Underground, the “real” history of the house and the fabricated history of a fictitious Dr. Arthur Cook and his psychedelic vision become obscured and intertwined, questioning social norms, truth, and the erosive process of memory.
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Freeman and Lowe create an intricate world rife with the memories and legacy of the mythical Dr. Cook, his parties, and his production of Marasa, a fictitious drug akin to LSD. Falsified publications, branding and photographs imbue the recollection of his character and environment with an intricate legitimacy. This crafted sense of authenticity comes from Freeman and Lowe’s meticulous adherence to the 1960’s period aesthetic, and to the work’s extraordinarily high production value. Highlights include the “control room,” where one hears the echoes of voices speaking from another part of the house, and the kitchen/Marasa brewing area, which is beautifully gritty and overgrown.
Bright White Underground’s staging in the Buck House, and in Los Angeles in general, contribute significantly to its conceptual efficacy. The pair of New York-trained artists who created the piece spent several months living in the building during the project’s development. The allure of the California of the 1960’s, with its romanticized glamor and drug-addled flippancy, was cemented and affirmed over the subsequent decades by an east coast laissez-faire mentality. The installation’s narrative presents a kind of vignette into the end of this era, describing a house that is both far away and past its prime; gnarled and decayed in a way that is nostalgically sad and beautiful. It uses the space as a barometer of the sixties’ vibrant history, torn apart through production (of drugs), addiction and time itself. Bright White Underground is a modern-day memory of the sixties, and a retrospective of the darker realities engendered by its cultural climate.
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Bright White Underground, 2010. Collage detail.
Where memory fails, myth takes the reigns. All of the paraphernalia of the installation (collages, archaeological art-ifacts, perpetuation of motifs) convincingly pass as a version of the truth. The experience of these intricate lies reveals the fragility of our understanding of the past, and exposes some of the cultural mechanisms involved in the process of writing the narrative history. The viewer of Bright White Underground is engulfed in a temporally-hybridized account, peeking through cracks into a world both foreign and hauntingly familiar.