Bursts of intensity within Kahlil Joseph’s quotidian landscape at MOCA


Nothing much happens in “m.A.A.d.,” Kahlil Joseph’s double-screen video installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Unexpectedly, its open-ended ordinariness is among the work’s primary advantages.

Women sit under hairdryers at the beauty parlor. Kids splash in a swimming pool. Drinks are served at a bar.

A panhandler at a neighborhood intersection flags down a car. Friends go for a joy ride in a convertible, destination unnecessary. Traffic streams along the freeway, shot from the aerial viewpoint of a drone.


A high school marching band practices its routine.

Routine is the operative word. A casual urban portrait of Los Angeles, photographed mostly but not exclusively in and around Compton, the two videos play on a synchronized loop.

The show was organized by curator Helen Molesworth. Projected onto juxtaposed screens arranged in an enveloping wedge, the work crosses the format of a music video with a short film (about 15 minutes in duration).

“m.A.A.d.” was commissioned by rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose music is sampled amid a score by Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) that is by turns dreamy and propulsive. The title is sometimes said to be a blunt acronym that derives from Lamar’s lyric, “Me an Angel on Angel Dust.”

Joseph’s everyday imagery is sporadically interrupted by abrupt flashes -- a man on horseback wildly galloping down a city street, a historical photograph of a gruesome lynching, home movies timestamped from the weeks before the explosive verdict in the Rodney King beating, a man suspended upside down from a streetlight as if a neighborhood Batman or vampire -- the undead. Sudden moments of intensity, some brutal and some inexplicable, are subsumed within the quotidian flow.

“m.A.A.d.” is 15 minutes of visual verse condensed from more than seven hours of video footage. Joseph burrows inside the rhythms of a place to describe it with amplitude and tenderness. The concentrated result is a mesmerizing hip-hop tone-poem, heartfelt and deeply moving.

Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., (213) 621-2766, through Aug. 16. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


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