ISSUE 2

CURRENT, ISSUE 2

Scot Sothern's photographs of prostitutes take new form in the book Streetwalkers, released Feb. 13 with an exhibition at Little Big Man Gallery

Interview by Phoebe Ünter

Photographer Scot Sothern’s new book Streetwalkers will be released this weekend. Expect an affordable paperback that’s a couple hundred pages long and full of Sothern’s photographs of prostitutes, which are accompanied by his stories. The book release will coincide with an exhibition of some of these photos at Little Big Man gallery, which opens this Saturday, Feb. 13.

We meet up and take a walk through Skid Row, where Sothern’s been coming to shoot on and off since the ‘70s. He walks slowly, with a cane but without hesitation, as we traverse crowded sidewalks, are offered drugs and occasionally get asked what two white people like us are doing here.

“When most people approach this area by car, they lock their doors, but I keep mine unlocked in case someone wants to get in,” Sothern says, alluding to his method for finding subjects these days: driving around, offering women $20 for a photo, then taking them somewhere to shoot.

I love the photos because the women appear unashamed of their bodies, and while they’re accustomed to performing and posing, some offer Sothern their sillier side, sometimes even donning masks and props and grinning ear-to-ear. Others are fierce or forlorn. Sothern pairs them with backgrounds that capture the cheap LA motel or street grit, and occasionally with something incredibly surreal — the flower-petal-carpeted sidewalk or a patterned wallpaper vortex.

Sothern brings up his reputation for sleeping with all his subjects. While this entire pursuit of photographing prostitutes began because he was visiting whorehouses, the project has morphed into something greater and he no longer sleeps with them. I think the real headline about his relationships with women should be that he’s had three wives — all feminists, atheists and Democrats.

No one asked me to clear his name, certainly not Sothern himself, but I find his intention and demeanor important context for seeing his whole oeuvre as empathetic an absolution, maybe, rather than pure shock value or exploitation (beyond that of any photographer).

He doesn’t claim to have bettered conditions in places like Skid Row, but he does like inserting photographs many people don’t think are pleasant to look at into galleries and art books, forcing people to look at something they’d rather not: “I like the idea of rubbing their nose in it; I have since I was a kid.”

And while the women are clearly subject rather than object, he truly finds them beautiful resolutely in the face of those who ask why he’d bother taking such ugly photographs.

Near the end of our walk, a homeless girl wrapped in a blanket approached us asking for change, imploring that we make it her lucky day. The patron saint of whores pulled out his wallet and gave her a 50-dollar bill, which I later discovered he’d thought was a five. She cried and they hugged and he kissed her on the cheek in the way your aunt would when you’re saying goodbye, see you soon, I love you.

CURRENT, ISSUE 2

Image courtesy of the artist

Marty Schnapf (pronounced ‘snap’) is a Los Angeles-based artist with a multidisciplinary background. His upcoming solo show brings together paintings, sculpture and drawings. We spoke with him at his Boyle Heights studio. 

GDT: These paintings appear to depart from the more conceptual nature of your previous work we’re familiar with. Can you tell us about their origins?

MS: I was working in Brussels with all these different organizations on a mega-project that was going to be installed over the whole city. Then the financial crisis hit, and the budget was wiped out. So I came here, wanting to make something with my hands, I wanted to look at it and say, “That’s the thing I made.” I started with figurative drawings, then did some sculptures, and then started making these trance-induced drawings. Everything just kept morphing and abstracting and becoming another thing. And so reflection and plasticity and abstraction and abjection, all of those things built up and would become part of this recent work. This show primarily consists of paintings that were started five or six years ago and then became something totally different as I returned to them in the last six months.

GDT: The raw emotion in these is really striking.

MS: Thank you. You’d think that that’s not hard to find in art, but it is. And it’s a really tricky place to walk because worse than making an unemotional work is making a sentimental work. It’s like if you walk up to somebody and say, “You should be sad right now.” That’s absurd! One, it’s not going to work, and two, it’s sort of offensive because it doesn’t appreciate that person’s intelligence and their own experience… Artwork for me is interesting when you think you’ve figured it out and then it denies your thought. That’s what makes a static thing alive: when it’s causing you to shift and move to find something appealing and to find something repulsive.

GDT: We’re curious about the trance-induced drawings that will also be in the show.

MS: I started those after I was lent a Sepik River canoe. It’s quite big — probably 10 feet long. It’s hand-carved, all dark wood. One end has a carved alligator head, and the other end looks like an alligator without being carved- an abstract end and a representational end. The alligator is the main point of worship for this tribe, and they’re a pretty intense group. They create the pattern of an alligator’s bite on their own skin through scarring. In this way, they are consumed by and become one with the alligator spirit. I started feeling like this canoe exists as a sort of spiritual conduit. So in communion with the canoe, I decided to open up, release a certain amount of judgment and essentially release authorship. What I was trying to do was to set up enough parameters that I could move without having to think about what I was going to do next. All of the drawings are on the same size paper, they all have to be finished in one sitting, and they all allow some preternatural visage to appear. I would put on music and play it on repeat. That’s the music-induced aspect of the trance. Then I’d sit down with the board and the paper and work feverishly — too fast to think, really. What ended up happening is [stepping back], I noticed categories. Some look like saints, some like monsters, some like superheroes, some like models, some like aliens, some like gods. I realised these typologies are not that dissimilar. They all represent something that is both superhuman and subhuman- something just beyond reach.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

 

 

FEATURE, ISSUE 2

More than 73 stories

Through the eyes of the workers building the Wilshire Grand Tower

Photos by Rachel Steinhauser & Hunter Kerhart

More than 700 workers are in the process of building the Wilshire Grand Tower, which will become Los Angeles’ tallest building and (if you include the spire) the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Dozens of teams of subcontractors work around the clock on every aspect of the building, which has been under construction since 2012. Every worker is a member of a union and while some live in or near Downtown, most commute from outside the area from as far as Hemet, Anaheim, Long Beach and the Inland Empire. Some workers have been with the project since the beginning, others started within the past few weeks. The highly publicized $1 billion development would not be possible without these specialized and fearless workers. 

Below is the view from inside the cockpit of the tower’s primary crane. Every work day, Josh Wiggins, the crane’s operator and the building’s highest-altitude worker, climbs up several ladders into the cockpit where he maneuvers precious cargo, like parts, materials, tools — and lunch — from the ground to the various floors of the tower. Wiggins decided to pursue crane operation after falling in love with the night sky view over Century City as an apprentice operator. His view from the top of the ascending Wilshire Grand is the best he’s had on a job and he chronicles what he sees from his sky office on Instagram. Follow him at @tower_guy.

Photo by Rachel Steinhauser

Crane operator Wiggins looks out over Los Angeles. Photo by Rachel Steinhauser.

In an industry with a high project turnover rate and an emphasis on speed, the taller the building grows and the closer it gets to completion, the more the workers think about their next jobs. Wiggins described his employment pattern as “feast or famine” – when he’s on a job like the Wilshire Grand, he’s logging a lot of overtime and working around the clock, sometimes taking only 6-hour breaks between shifts. But as soon as the job is over, it can be difficult to find another one right away. Louie Marquez, a laborer (pictured above), said getting jobs on big projects is all based on “who you know.” Marquez works 40-hour weeks at the Wilshire Grand and commutes from Glassell Park. He got his start in constructionrepairing Downtown’s First Interstate Tower (now Aon Center) after significant fire damage in 1988.

Photo by Rachel Steinhauser

 

Hunter Kerhart followed up on the story with these aerial images taken in November.

ART & ACTIVISM, ISSUE 2

Part 1 : The overlap of art and activism

VD: I call myself a teaching artist because I consider teaching to sort of be a form of activism, especially because at the moment — and going forward — I’m teaching art education. So for me the question ends up being more about, “How does teaching overlap with activism?” or, “How does teaching overlap with art?” versus, “How does my activism overlap with art?” 

CW: In my mind, the overlap between art and activism might actually be quite small because art can do consciousness-raising but activism can be the change. Activism can mobilize votes, put pressure on political systems and change policy. But where’s the overlap? Because once someone raises [another’s] consciousness they have to actually go do something. 

VD: I don’t think that the overlap is small. I agree [that somebody needs] to actually put their thoughts and feelings into action in order to actually achieve any sort of change.  But for activism and movements that are successful, creative production is so integral! Creative production is the way that you communicate the fact that there’s a need that’s not being met. It’s the way that you communicate all of the things that the movement is for. The way that you envision a different reality is creative production. In that sense, there’s a lot of overlap. [But] there’s a chasm sometimes when there’s a really restricted view of an art practice. I think that even just saying where I am on a spectrum [from artist to activist]… my thoughts on it are changing all the time. If you’re not constantly questioning what it is that you’re doing, constantly in some state of doubt or questioning about, “Is this the right thing?” you’re probably doing something really bad.

CW: But at the same time there’s a certain paralysis that happens in the art world right now. I’m a painter, and I know that a painting can’t vote. I don’t think there’s any way a painting can be political the way a person can be political. Maybe my painting can shame someone into voting, or change someone’s emotions and then the person votes, but my painting will never be able to vote, so in that sense my paintings can’t possibly be political. But I think what you’re talking about — this doubt — I don’t think you’re talking about paralysis.

VD: Doubt isn’t even the right word, but a constant self-reflective process of questioning your motives and the efficacy of what you’re doing.

CW: But I’ve seen the painters who are crippled by [this]. I’ve seen the artists who are questioning: “Oh my gosh. Should this be purple or should this be red?” That’s not the doubt that you’re talking about. People have sat in their studios and have thought “I’m going to paint my doubt.” But it’s not doubt about any sort of political or any sort of political stance. They’re doubting some sort of historical narrative — art has a historical narrative that is in my opinion kind of pointless.

VD: Yeah, I don’t even think about that.

CW: [Laughs]

VD: It’s almost bringing up something. It’s been so long that I’ve even thought about that. I’m so grateful to be out of grad school.

CW: So you were disconnected in grad school?

VD: Not like I felt really disconnected and it was out of my hands, but I chose to be disconnected. I knew that I didn’t have the capacity to be helpful to an organization that was actually doing real stuff. But then I got connected with [YJC] by working with their media team and helping them out with graphics work for quite a long time, just doing graphics work to support the work they were already doing.

CW: Which I think is really really important. If we approach these movements, like the racial justice movement, and we say, “Racial justice movement, what can you do for my art?” That’s totally fucked up, right? Whereas if we go to the racial justice movement and we say, “What can I do? Oh, you need a website? OK, I’ll make the website. Oh, you need graphics? I’ll help do the graphics. Oh, you need facilitation? I’ll do that.” I would rather do that. I would rather give the LA No More Jails Coalition one hour of time that they really need as opposed to 10 hours of art time that they don’t need.

VD:  I approached YJC as a human that happens to have those skills and capacity. That’s the thing I’m bringing to it in terms of what I can offer. It’s art skills and capacity. I think what you’re describing is approaching it with an agenda, and it doesn’t matter if that agenda is an artistic agenda or if that agenda is a business-oriented agenda. I think that that would be a fucked-up way to approach any sort of social justice movement or nonprofit in general. 

Part 2 : The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Grant

CW: Are we approaching the Rauschenberg grant like we have an agenda to get one huuuundred thouuuusand dollars? Or are we approaching the Rauschenberg grant like it’s actually going to help our movement-building? That’s the question that I’m asking myself.

VD: So, in terms of that self-reflection, that self-interrogation that I was talking about, that’s the question. 

CW: Yeah. It’s the self-doubt and interrogation and vigilance. But it’s also the agenda. It might be where our agendas are more visible, or could be more visible.

VD: OK, so we’re both in a similar situation, where we both work with larger organizations that have a long and strong history of doing work around incarceration. In your case, the abolition of incarceration. And [in] YJC’s case... I don’t know how to describe their relationship to incarceration, but I could guess advocacy around policy change.

CW: I think that Kim McGill, [YJC’s lead organizer], identifies as an abolitionist.

VD: I’m describing the orientation of the organization, but I just mean that both of the organizations we work with have a long history of doing this work, and yet they couldn’t access this grant because they’re 501(c)3, they’re nonprofits. The position of the YJC, and way that I hold it, is that the grant can’t be just a way to funnel money to artists that care about incarceration or abolition. It needs to actually work towards changing policies around incarceration. It needs to support those policy changes.

CW: I totally agree.

VD: That’s the difference, and that’s where I start to get really critical around social practice, and all of these different art movements. I guess “social practice” specifically, because I consider that term a way to give activism art market value. I don’t think that the Rauschenberg grant is meant for that type of work.

CW: Well then let [me talk about my] project.

VD: So what [are you] proposing?

CW: I’m really trying to work with my fellow members at Critical Resistance and I’m going to work with Matt Weathers. He and I are [saying] that we’re going to try to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is going to the Board of Supervisors and [doing outreach] in Skid Row. We’d use the money for stipends and projects, to bring people to the Board of Supervisors and activate them on the policy level, and try to put pressure on the LA County Board of Supervisors to stop the $2 billion jail plan and at the same time build our base. We’re going to talk to people who have been directly impacted by the prison industrial complex and try to push forward our messaging that abolition is the only way to go when it comes to the prison industrial complex. 

VD: It’s interesting listening to your proposal because you’re trying to reframe your activism as art, essentially. You’re applying for this art grant. What is the thing that would make that applicable?

CW: It would be outreach in Skid Row in the form of an office space [or] town hall [or] community event [space]. And performances at the Board of Supervisors steps where artists can perform and there’s a crowd. And a way to take that energy and crowd on the outside and funnel it into the public comments on the inside so that the Board of Supervisors can hear that there are people watching and that there are people paying attention to their decisions and there are people who really don’t think that a jail is the best thing to keep Los Angeles safe.

VD: So you’re going to be essentially having a performance that becomes a vehicle for those comments to get into the Board of Supervisors, or is it an event?

CW: It would be an event series which is basically what we’ve been doing just [on] a larger scale. But maybe it’s not a good art project… [laughs].

VD: You know what’s kind of interesting? The idea of applying for a grant for this particular cause — or I guess any cause that we all support — brings this art and nonprofit grant-application-process-Hunger-Games thing into such stark contrast. We all should be happy if someone has a really great project.

CW: That’s what I’m saying! If LAPD, the Los Angeles Poverty Department, gets this grant I would be so, so happy. 

VD: Or, if I’m going to put my faith in the granting institution actually supporting projects that will be effective in making change, then maybe putting this $100,000 toward something that could actually effect that change, causing people to put in the effort to stretch themselves creatively and compete for this thing, maybe that is slightly different than the typical nonprofit Hunger Games. 

Part 3 : Art as activism vs. activism as art

CW: When I first started organizing I looked at [it] as a mental escape from the rat race of grad school and I really liked it. It was emotionally good for me. But now, three years, four years later, I’ve seen enough of organizing and I’ve felt enough jealousy that I think that sometimes that Hunger Games feeling is actually everywhere. And that’s just maybe the condition of late capitalism.

VD: You said something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say, which is that you started [your organizing] almost as an antithesis to your experience of the art world.

CW: I think there’s a very big separation in my life between my art and my organizing because of the things I’ve mentioned before, because I don’t think my paintings can be political the way I can be political, and it’s just a philosophical thing. We’re in late capitalism, we’re trying to be super-specialized — everyone has to be really specialized in something, otherwise they don’t make money. We have to stop doing that thing that the scientists did when they discovered how to make an atom bomb. The scientists who discovered how to make an atom bomb were really really good at their jobs, but they may not have been really good at being humans. So we have to stop being so good at our jobs as artists and start being better at what you said, better at being human.

VD: You mean coming together collectively.

CW: Yeah. And I really don’t agree with the premise of the Rauschenberg Grant to a certain extent. Because it says Artist as Activist. Artist as activist is really freakin’ hard. But artist and activist, maybe that’s more exciting to me, maybe there’s more possibilities.

VD: So in terms of your whole life experience, is activism a newer part?

CW: So my art is about my emotions, and my organizing is the only way I can deal with my ego. My ego is constantly under threat. My ego as a “good person,” a “good person of color,” someone who is anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-sexist — that self-identification in my ego is constantly being threatened because I have racial and class privilege. So how can I participate in a system where my parents identified with the white settler colonial system? As immigrants coming to America they did not identify with the indigenous or enslaved population. So how do I deal with that history, that legacy? How do I contain my ego of being a good person with that legacy? Organizing is the only way that I’ve found that. And my art is totally ridden with guilt. 

VD: I was just explaining to somebody how important it feels to me to have my own art practice happening right now at the same time as I’m doing this really emotionally intense thing of traveling with and installing YJC’s memorial that’s been created by hundreds of young people in juvenile halls, schools [and] juvenile camps all across Los Angeles. It feels so important to me to have my own art practice. Not because I’m like, “Oh, my art practice is sooo special,” but because I need to have my ego in something else other than this memorial project.  It’s to avoid the insidious underbelly of socially engaged art projects — or community art projects, or social practice — where your identity as an artist becomes wrapped up in something that’s actually somebody else’s lived experience.

CW: You know what I think is really important? The last piece you did that I experienced, which was that audio piece [that] you presented at Analog Dissident. There was a really good conversation, and out of the conversation I realized that your piece was to a certain extent about how to be a white ally. 

VD: How was it that for you?

CW: Because when I experienced it and when we talked about it afterwards, that piece was about amplifying the voices of the people who were directly impacted and putting their thoughts and analysis at the forefront, and stepping back. And using your white privilege to ask the policemen a hard question. Does that make sense? That’s really freakin’ hard! It’s hard to have privilege in a space and not be an asshole.

VD: Yeah it does. I see how my artwork, my sculptural work, has been so much about dysfunctional systems, and the structures that support dysfunctional systems. And suddenly it’s like, I saw this process of recording and producing an album as a system that could actually function as a tool to amplify people’s voices, like [you were] saying, and to collect their stories. The stories I’ve been recording are people’s personal experiences of a truly dysfunctional system and all of those structures.

Part 4 : Who benefits from art? Who benefits from activism?

CW: What’s the audience for organizing and what’s the audience for art? The audience for organizing to me is all of the people who are oppressed under this really crappy system, but then the audience for art is all of the people who are complicit in this system. So my art has a certain level of disgust in it. People have said that it’s really cynical, but it’s not actually cynical — it’s just super angry. I’m just so mad at all these people. The things that are going on are so intense. Just [the] LA County jail system — the largest jail system in the world — holds 15,000 people at any given time, and they want to build more jails in LA and the cost would be $2 billion.

VD: Your position is that the people that you are speaking to with your artwork are the people that are complicit in that.

CW: Yeah that’s totally my assumption. Because if I show my work in LA, it’s people who are in LA, who either don’t know what’s going on or they don’t care. And by not caring, I don’t mean liking a Facebook post or saying, “Oh that’s terrible,” I’m talking about people just aren’t willing to take the time to educate themselves.

VD: I generally think of [my] audience as the people who I’m immediately surrounded by. And in the case of when I was in grad school, that was people I think you’re kinda thinking of, Christine.

CW: You mean art people? People with a master’s degree in the art field?

VD: Yeah, that’s who I was pretty much surrounding myself with. But working on the album, and for the past few years of doing organizing work, I’ve been surrounding myself with a different group of people. 

CW: I guess the inverse of who benefits from art and who benefits from activism is how does art benefit me and how does activism benefit me? If I give the art world something to munch on, then that makes me a better artist, or a more prestigious artist, whereas if I help organize then maybe the movement can be a little bit stronger. 

VD: You mean that working toward being a better artist only helps you as an individual but working as a better organizer helps the movement?

CW: I guess what I’m trying to talk about is labor hours. If I put my labor into making works of art that then get sold — or not sold — or somehow add cultural capital in the art world, that’s my labor hours benefiting the art world, whereas if I put my labor hours into the organizing world, then I think it will ultimately benefit LA County. If LA County doesn’t build the new women’s jail and the new mental health jail, ultimately that will benefit Los Angeles.

VD: I think there are so many different art worlds. I get a little bit uncomfortable, even though I also get swept into doing this as well: the idea of talking about art as though it’s this specialized thing that only people with degrees in art do. The organizing work that happens in LA in general, by organizations like YJC and Critical Resistance and North East Los Angeles Alliance, that is art work. It feels like the “art world” in Los Angeles will occasionally acknowledge art that is happening by those groups, but there’s [a restricted] view of art within the art-market-related art world.

CW: Andrea Fraser complains about the term “art world” all the time. She says the art world isn’t a separate thing; it’s still part of the world we’re living in. And it’s this huge multibillion-dollar industry, and I think that’s where my frustration comes from. It’s not a frustration with the art world, it’s just frustration with super-privileged comfortable people everywhere, including myself. And the worst part of it is that they’re in my world and they’re in the world of oppressed peoples, and they’re making some things worse with apathy. Is that too crazy?

VD: Wait what?

CW: [laughs] I asked is that too crazy? I think a lot of disgust comes across in my work, and [that] disgust happens in my organizing when I’m at the Board of Supervisors, saying they’re just as bad as Nazi sympathizers for locking up mentally ill people. No one’s doing industrial-scale murder in Los Angeles, but [there are] horrible stories of women in California prisons getting sterilized, in-custody deaths, [inmates] being denied medication [and] the overuse of solitary confinement, which California calls security housing units (SHU). The UN said that any sort of solitary confinement beyond 14 days constitutes torture and is going to cause permanent damage. And there are people in California prisons who have been locked up in the SHU for decades. And it’s our taxpayer money! So I really actually don’t think bringing up Nazis is that far [off]. People are going to be so mad at me if this goes to print. As a genocidal project the prison industrial complex is pretty compelling just in the sense that if you’re locking up mostly people of color and they’re gender-separated, then the capacity to form families and reproduce family structures is totally destroyed.

VD: The impact that locking people up has on families is tremendous, in terms of parents being removed from their children, children ending up in foster care. The likelihood that a person who grew up [in foster care] is then gonna become system-involved [is greater]. It becomes a generational trauma that reproduces itself. So actually there is a reproduction that’s happening in terms of a family unit, but the reproduction is devastating to those families.

CW: And so if there’s this stuff going on in California, and there’s the rise of very, very rich venture capitalist firms in the Bay Area, and there’s a thriving art scene in Los Angeles, and now there’s people getting rich off of the legalization of marijuana, it’s really hard for me to not get super angry. Where is the social justice in California right now?

ISSUE 2, VISIONS

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Who's hanging out at DTLA galleries' sister spaces in NYC

Illustrations by Alex Tatusian

 

Even a year ago, you might have confused your Uber driver by directing her across the LA River to the intersection of S Mission Road and Boyd Street in the early evening hours; too early for a warehouse rave, too late to be conducting import/export shipping business. But Downtown’s industrial periphery now houses many galleries with large, flexible spaces in reclaimed warehouses that butt up against train tracks, strip clubs and Budweiser distribution trucks.

With digs like these, galleries have not just ample room and sumptuous Southern California light, but manage to draw crowds to their isolated locales with programming like group meditation and mimosas on Sunday mornings, gender-bending strip shows and free gourmet barbeques with plenty of vegan options for Ellen Page—who you may run into while the chef explains what part of Argentina the steaks were flown in from.

While the Los Angeles art scene offers obvious appeal for galleries like these, several of them have more established homes in another arts-focused region: crowded, competitive New York City. Where they lack in event accommodations and spatial flexibility, they succeed in drawing wealthy buyers and ordinary pedestrians alike from the busy sidewalks of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Here’s a look at these Downtown LA galleries’ counterparts in New York City through the characters that frequent them, as drawn by Alex Tatusian.

CURRENT, ISSUE 2

La Victoria, every Wednesday @ Las Perlas, 107 E 6th St

by Ariel Dixon

 Photo by Andrea Alonso

Photo by Andrea Alonso

The dancing pair holding fast to each other, cheek-to-cheek in a languid, tequila infused two-step, has not quit since the music’s start. Behind them, the streamers have begun to wilt, swaying perilously close to the flame of a birthday cake. It is Wednesday, late night, and La Victoria — guitar, guitarrón, violin, and a trio of ascendant voices — unites the room in song.

Comprised of Mary Velasco, Vaneza Calderón and Rosalie Rodriguez, the members of La Victoria do not call themselves a mariachi band. Though they often play songs of the mariachi canon, wield instruments traditional to mariachis and reinterpret songs with characteristic mariachi rhythm, La Victoria has both broader aspirations and influence. Among those are the likes of ranchera singers Lola Beltran and Lucha Villa, as well as mariachi powerhouses like Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and Mariachi Mujer 2000. A skip-hop over a genre, and Linda Ronstadt and Lucinda Williams, too, are cited for their mastery of rock, country, and even Mexican folk. This is all to say that La Victoria mines their sound somewhere in the convergence of these multiple eras and genres — preserving the spirit of Mexican folk, the tradition of mariachi, with an infusion of the American West, and then, of course, a top-off of Angeleno style. 

Such a dynamic is not lost on the Downtown scene, where similar tropes meld daily. In fact, DTLA’s resurgence as a nightlife destination has bolstered the local music scene. La Victoria’s weekly Wednesday stand begins at 10 at Las Perlas, close to 6th and Main. Though they perform from a patch of floor at the bar’s head — behind them a sign reads “We Now Serve Tacos!” — and to an audience volume often befit for a late night crowd, the band’s sound is not stymied in the slightest. The crowd is with them. They perform “La Pelea de Gallos” — something of an anthem in band member Mary Velasco’s mother’s Mexican home state — and the crowd, unrehearsed and uninstructed, cries mid-song, “¡Viva Aguascalientes!” Pairs of dancers arise and pack in close to the stage area delineated by microphones, a tip bucket and the trio. A man perched on his barstool overlooking the fray mouths along to the words, pulls from his beer, then claps loudest when the song ends. Drinks abound, but most have come tonight for the music. 

One of the most intriguing parts of La Victoria’s dynamic is the ebb and flow of its three voices, backed by strong instrumentation that can flit naturally from a ballad — “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” — to a jaunty crowd pleaser that has the bar in chorus. Song by song, the trio switches vocalists. On one, Mary leads; on the next Vaneza steps forward; another and Rosalie is at the mic, violin ready at her shoulder. Each vocalization bears its own weight and tone: in Rosalie’s an unmistakable kinship with the late Selena Quintanilla-Perez, in Mary’s a timbre more traditional and Americana-imbued. Each voice is paired well with the song performed, and in their brightest moments, they trade off on a note — one voice holds a final tone, as another band member begins the same one, lifting it from her mate and beginning the next song. 

Though there are challenges unique to an all female band — being considered cute in coordinated regalia — La Victoria seems undaunted. They are professionals: devoted and skilled enough to work hard in performance yet appear simultaneously effortless — convivial, even. The room’s energy is all fodder for the trio. They have transformed a Wednesday’s dour midnight into a party among friends. 

 

HOW WE MET, ISSUE 2

Photo by Andrea Alonso

SK: We first met when we were both working at adjoined businesses called the Brooklyn Kitchen and Meat Hook. Brooklyn Kitchen is a kitchen supply store and event space. Sarah was working there, and the Meat Hook is a butcher shop where I was working. We were both kind of in the back doing some grunt work — Sara was putting price stickers on things and I was shredding bus tubs and bus tubs of cabbage.

SH: I’d say for both of us it was transitionary, maybe for me more than you.

SK: Yeah, for me, I just needed to fill my time, and I knew the people who worked there and owned the place, who I’d worked with at another butcher called Marlowe and Daughters.

SH: I was working as a cook previously, and truthfully I was in a relationship that was failing because I had no time. And then I was like, maybe I need a more sustainable life. So I was hoping to meet people that were looking to do experimental food-related things — a community interested in food but not working in restaurants. Though that didn’t happen there. I was there for two months, maybe, and then left. Really not happy. I was really bored.

SK: So we met but we didn’t really ever speak. I think we were in different universes within those two places. Though sometimes it was actually just the two of us in this back room.

SK: I’d be walking in and out and there was no conversation. I maybe tried to be like, “Hey.”

SH: I probably tried to be like, “Hey.”

SK: And we were both just doing our work. And I was like “Who’s the weird circus girl?” She also had a funny haircut at the time.

SH: I had a bowl cut, it was a very queer bowl cut.

SK: I was just trying to do my job and was kinda angry that I had so much cabbage to cut. But Sarah came up to me that last day she was working 

there and said, “I’m gonna go work at Blue Hill.” I assumed she told me this because I had worked there, and because it’s a very difficult place to work as a cook. I didn’t even know that she had been a cook, or anything about her except that she did circus. So I think I said, “Well, good luck.” 

SH: And I was like, “Wow, she’s a bitch.”

SK: I didn’t even know she was a cook and it’s a hard place to work, and I was like “Who is this circus hussy who wants to go cook at Blue Hill?” Anyway, I barely thought about her again. Until I had opened Glasserie in Brooklyn, the first place I was the chef at. We had been open for about two months when Sarah came in to eat.

SH: At this point I knew about you because I had a bunch of friends that went through the Marlowe Diner world. It had been about four years. I had worked at Blue Hill for two years, then Mission Chinese, then traveled… I was trying to figure out where I wanted to work. I was thinking about Gramercy Tavern; I had been offered a position there.

SK: And I was like, “Oh you’re not working anywhere yet? Are you looking for a job? Work with me, PLEASE!”

SH: I really liked the food at Glasserie; I was surprised just how much.

SK: And I really needed help. I had already gone through two sous chefs. One was arrested the first day we opened. Then I hired another guy who didn’t stay very long. So I was on my third sous chef in three months when Sarah started. It was very hard. Very very hard. In the beginning at a certain point it was me, a cook, and a dishwasher, and the dishwasher was doubling as a prep cook and the salad cook. 

SH: Kenji!

SK: Kenji.

SH: Oh my god Kenji.

SK: He was this very weird half-Japanese guy who lived in Jersey and was an artist.

SH: And was such an eyesore.

SK: Such an eyesore.

SH: But also he was so great. 

SK: So awesome.

SH: If only we could have Kenji here.

SK: But he was also a total alcoholic. He was great, but not really a cook, and not really a dishwasher. Anyway I was miraculously able to convince Sarah to come work with us.

SH: I was interested in seeing where this would take me. I knew exactly what I would get out of working at Gramercy Tavern. But I didn’t really know what would happen working with Sara. 

SK: We had a good creative collaboration, a not-dissimilar style of working and of how we wanted to run things. But when a year later I put in my notice, I knew the owner was gonna try to have her take over for me. So I was like “Uh, no” and approached Sarah about leaving as well.

SH: It all happened so fast. The owner approached me; I was like, “Hell no.” And then at the same time, we took a trip to LA together.

SK: It was a scope trip. My boyfriend was from here, so that was a big draw for me, but also I had wanted to leave New York for a long time, mostly because I wanted to have a different experience somewhere.

SH: It’s funny — I feel like for me, it was another moment where I said, “I don’t know exactly where this is gonna take me; I’m just gonna go with it, because it’s interesting and potentially very fruitful in a lot of ways. Gotta be open-minded about it.”

SK: And here we are! Downtown LA! Falafel!

ISSUE 2, VISIONS

Running Towards Eggslut

by Luke Kanter

running towards eggslut

illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

The Westside Woman bolts out of her Brentwood bed after a night of light sleep and shallow breathing. She can’t believe this day is finally here. She’s finally going to Eggslut.

She remembers where she was and what she was doing when she first laid her eyes on the fabled Bacon, Egg and Cheese on a Brioche Bun. She was sitting with her dear friend Gretchen T. at the Brentwood Country Mart in the middle of a weekday when Gretchen T. recoiled in response to something on her gold iPhone 6 Plus screen.

“Oh my god!”

“What?”

“Look at Lucy V.’s Instagram account.”

The Westside Woman immediately pulled out her black iPhone 6 Plus (although let’s be honest, she likely had it in her hands already) and typed “LucyLooks” into the Instagram search bar. And that’s when she saw it.

“Eggslut?”

“Can you imagine?”

“...Looks good.”

“Apparently there’s a lot going on Downtown.”

She leaves the Bacon, Egg and Cheese Country Mart — sorry, Brentwood Country Mart — and goes about her day. She runs to the Third Street Promenade to pick up a Bacon, Egg and Cheese — sorry, a Beats speaker — for her husband’s birthday. She goes to a special screening of Eggslut starring Bacon, Egg and Cheese at the Arclight and afterward puts her lovely Eggslut to bed before her big first day of school.

Perhaps it was the half-hour she spent drooling over the bacon aisle at the Brentwood Whole Foods on Wednesday, or maybe the realization came when she whimpered “Eggslut” during brief foreplay with her Then-Husband on Friday night; regardless, she knows what she has to do and where she has to go when she awakes the next morning.

The Westside Woman, in all of her bright coral pedal-pushered, cotton-bloused, Tory Birch–heeled glory, has arrived at Grand Central Market, ready for one perfect moment of baconed-egged-and-cheesed bliss.

She sniffs out DTLA Cheese. Is this Eggslut? She whooshes by Wexler’s Deli. Excuse me, is this Eggslut? The Pupuseria? La Huerta? Could either of those be Spanish for Eggslut? She goes down to the bathroom. There’s no way — this — this can’t possibly be Eggslut!

The Westside Woman, weary from the running and weight of her iPhone 6 Plus, limps toward a small booth that sells a strange beverage that’s apparently very good for you, Debra P. absolutely loves it, good for the stomach, and sounds like Kabocha? Kambochu? Karachi? She finally blurts out to the rapidly texting cherubic college theater major behind the counter:

“Please tell me: Is. THIS. EGGSLUT?!”

“No ma’am, this is clearly another business. See that sign? The yellow neon one?”

She slowly turns her head toward an egg-shaped neon sign that reads—

“EGGSLUT!!!”

The Westside Woman’s voice echoes from Hill to Broadway. She could lean over and KISS the Kabuki salesman (though he’s too young for her and quite gay) but she’s physically overcome. She runs toward the divine Eggslut, her shoes click-clacking against the concrete floor.

She waits in line for an hour between a tall, black-hatted, cerulean-haired hipster witch and a couple from Portland who can’t quite wrap their head around LA’s diversity, waiting for her moment in the eggy sun. And when she finally gets to order:

“Hi, welcome to Eggslut. What would you like?”

“A side salad, please.”

Like a real eggslut.