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Words and Pictures: 60 artists interpret sex for The Chronicles of LA's inaugural chapter

Words and Pictures: 60 artists interpret sex for The Chronicles of LA's inaugural chapter
Experiential pop-up and art exhibit The Chronicles of LA will run from Dec. 1-2 at a secret vintage hotel in DTLA. (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

For the first chapter of experiential pop-up store and art exhibit The Chronicles of LA, husband and wife duo James Mountford and Leena Similu were inspired by the “punkism” of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

"Coming from London, there was this huge movement with Vivienne Westwood," said Mountford, who relocated to Los Angeles three years ago. "She had this shop called 'Sex' on Kings Road and it had a real punk, no-rules kind of attitude. L.A. feels like it's going through that kind of rejuvenation at the moment and that was really inspiring to us."

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The couple borrowed the theme for the first edition of their immersive concept store which will feature fashion, art, interiors, performance, music and experiential retail from 60 different artists.

"We thought it was quite a fun word to throw around to people and see what they come up with," said Similu. "[We hoped] people would do it with a sense of humor or some people would really go deep into the history of their teenage years. It's really fascinating to see what people came up with."

Billed as “a weekend of immersive storytelling retail,” The Chronicles of LA will take place Friday and Saturday in a vintage hotel in DTLA. While the event is open to the public, the location is being kept secret until guests RSVP.

"It's the element of surprise," said Similu.

"We wanted something that was an experience," added Mountford. "And it seemed really fitting to have it at a hotel. We felt like if you turn up to a hotel and you're allowed to roam freely from room to room you’re given free rein to become a voyeur into all these different worlds of peoples' imaginations."

The ephemerality of the two-day pop-up is meant to add the experience as well.

"There's a tricky balance in that because obviously with just two days you're not getting the sort of traffic you would get through the doors of a regular pop-up," said Mountford. "But also it's the kind of thing that you can easily miss out on, so I think maybe that's something that might drive people to want to be a part of it. So that was kind of our marketing strategy. And we're hoping it will pay off."

Participating artists span from friends of the couple to up and coming artists discovered on Instagram.

"One of the things that was really at the front of our minds when we started this was that it would be a very democratic selection," said Mountford. "We tried to find people that were just starting out as well as people that were established in their career. And it was really key that we had a strong female presence. Lately in the news there's been so much talk about … well, there's been all sorts of talk, but I'm thinking specifically about the fact that art galleries are so male-dominated."

Between 65% and 70% of the featured artists in this chapter are women, according to Mountford. “It was really, really key that we have a strong female presence,” he said.

Themes to be explored vary from flesh and bondage to remembrance of the artists’ sexual awakenings.

"Another one we have is the virgin bride," said Similu. "That one's kind of tongue-in-cheek, the cliche of the first wedding night. We've reduced all of those familiar sex objects and references in this pure white, juxtaposed with the darkness of S&M. So you might have a whip, but it's in a beautiful white suede. It's great conversation and dialogue between those two buzzwords."

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If guests like what they see, many of the works are for sale, though people are also invited to simply peruse the rooms.

"The fact that there are things for sale is secondary to the fact that you can explore," said Mountford.

"It's not like you're walking in and there's merchandise and we're waiting for you to open your wallet," said Similu with a laugh.

"None of the rooms are going to have shops in it, there's not going to be any racks or rails, there won't be any sale signs,” Mountford continued. “It's more like, you walk into someone's room and there's a beautiful gown draped over the back of a door and that's for sale. And there's a chair in the corner of the room and that's for sale. But you can also walk in there and exist as if you were in a hotel room."

So what’s in store for upcoming chapters?

"Oh that's a secret!" said Simulu. "But we'll reinvent it. The whole thing about this is that we'll always start from the beginning with a different concept, completely different venue, different marketing ideas. Everything will change.

"All will be revealed," she said.

Here five of the artists talk about their work:

Desmond wearing the Princess Fiona after prom dress, dress by Michael Laed.
Desmond wearing the Princess Fiona after prom dress, dress by Michael Laed. (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

Michael Laed

Los Angeles, sustainable fashion

What do you think of when you think of sex?

I’d like to say love or passion, but a lot of things come to mind: past partners, porn. I think of the sex I’ve had or I’m having and I wonder about all the kinds of sex I won’t have or might not experience, other people's fetishes, etc.

What does sex mean to you? How has that meaning evolved over time?

Sex is so often negatively portrayed as some sort of act of satisfying or pleasuring your partner only. Sex is about the self and pleasuring the self. I think we often forget how primitive and instinctual the act of sex is. I’m young and I think that my view on sex has evolved and will probably continue to evolve. My view on sex when I was younger was much more closeted or rooted in fear.

How did you chose to portray sex through your art for this exhibit?

I wanted to show where I think sex is at in the modern digital world: this sense of hyper accessibility and this false impression of openness. As part of the LGBT community I feel like our sex in particular has a history of being stigmatized and discreetly fetishized. This was my way of taking some of the ‘stigma’ around sex in the community and creating something you could wear pridefully.

Various Pieces by Estudio Persona
Various Pieces by Estudio Persona (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

Estudio Persona

Uruguay, furniture exhibition

What do you think of when you think of sex?

Sex is liberation of repressed expression. The place where you feel no limitations. The more you feel, the better. It is something that can't usually exist in the ordinary expression of your everyday self.

What does sex mean to you?

Sex means honesty and communication, a physical translation of my emotional state of mind. In my youth, the pleasure of sex was different and, at times, brought about self-doubt, where as now, sex is what brings me balance and peace.

How did you choose to portray sex for this exhibit?

It is portrayed subtly throughout the movement of the room, with the female form, and the suggestiveness of sexual yearning.

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"The Lotus Eaters (Artifact no.2)." Mixed technique on paper
"The Lotus Eaters (Artifact no.2)." Mixed technique on paper (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

Justin Hopkins

Los Angeles, music and painting

What do you think of when you think of sex?

Life, Nature, Collaboration, Identity, Love, Lust, Power, Submission, Procreation, Recreation

What does sex mean to you?

Sex is the most natural and necessary thing on the face of the earth yet can carry so many social taboos and hidden vulnerabilities. There is much to be learned about a culture in time by looking at how it praises and punishes sex.

How did you choose to portray sex for this exhibit?

The idea of sex is being abstracted into an improvised sound performance in collaboration with a film by James Mountford. The performances will be broken into several sets randomly scattered over the course of the event depicting the arc of several different sexual experiences.

Jessica Emmanuel Artist Image
Jessica Emmanuel Artist Image (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

Jessica Emmanuel

Los Angeles, movement-based art

What do you think of when you think of sex?

Energy, creativity, connection, surrendering to the moment, being completely present.

What does sex mean to you?

For me, sex is the essence of creation. Recently I’ve been thinking more about sexual energy and how to harness that energy to give birth to new ideas. The meaning of sex for me has changed so much over the years and that’s actually what my piece is about. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of toxic social programming. For example I think I was 11 or 12 when random men started catcalling, which even though it was not my fault, it made me want to become invisible. I changed the way I walked, the way I dressed, stopped making eye contact, walked on the other side of the street, walked faster, basically anything and everything to shrink myself. So I had to learn to let that go and become visible again. Then as a teenager I learned that sex was shameful, which I later had to unlearn and so on and so on.

How did you choose to portray sex for this exhibit?

I decided to look at some pivotal moments in my life and create movement sequences based on what my feelings were about sex at that time. The movement sequences will happen in the corridors of the hotel.

Misplaced Demarcations by James Mountford.
Misplaced Demarcations by James Mountford. (Courtesy of The Confluence Group)

James Mountford

London, photography and sculpture

What do you think of when you think of sex?

It’s visceral and dark and exciting. Always changing and ever-evolving. I think that’s what keeps it exciting.

What does sex mean to you?

I mean, it’s just a fun thing to do. Even in the last year it’s changed dramatically. We went from just me and Leena to me, Leena and a baby. So now we have our 3-month-old and obviously sex has changed drastically through that whole process.

How did you choose to portray sex for this exhibit?

I think a lot of my work can have some kind of sexual connotation to it. I just continued along the same lines. A lot of my work is based in the dark and I think a lot of sex happens in the dark. So there’s that curiosity of, “What’s in that shadow? What’s happening in that hidden corner?” And that’s probably what drives my work in this particular exhibition.

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