What Air Ordered – Photography by Gabriel Malikian @Sagebrush Cafe

“What Air Ordered” is a show of photographs by Gabriel Malikian that may put you in mind of journeying. But that is not because it is a set of exotic landscapes with pictures of far-flung places. It’s something else.

To put it one way, Malikian is giving us an invitation in “What Air Ordered.” The show is a collection of photographs inviting us to rethink the things we see every day.

If you have ever walked a street that you usually drive, then you know that the adjustment changes things, transforming a semi-conscious commute into a new experience. It’s not just the speed that changes. Somehow, it’s a different street.

The photographs in this show are not “domestic” images that have been reinvented through a camera lens. This is not a show about commuting – and that is not the point here. What the photographs are doing is capturing street-side, roadside and nature scenes in ways that emphasize geometry and color and manage to intimate meanings pitched just above the co-valence of the parts and their whole.

In a related way, there is an idea in this show that brings home the point that what we see is determined by how we look at the world around us. When we embark on a journey, we begin to look actively at the landscape in ways that we often don’t look at our own neighborhood. In drawing attention to this notion, you might say that “What Air Ordered” becomes a journey of ten images, images that consider both what we see and how we look at things.

As a photographer and writer, Malikian is probably more invested in this what/how relationship than most people. And this interest is certainly part of what you will see when you look at the show on display now at Sagebrush Café in Quartz Hill.

But there is more to it than that. To get at some of the other ideas that animate both the show and the artist, we sat down and asked Malikian a few questions:

Gabriel Malikian What Air Ordered
-Tell us about your experience taking pictures in Montana. Did the specifics of the region invite a different approach to compared to the places you have spent more time with a camera (like Los Angeles)?

Very much so. I was in Billings for work on a film shoot and I suffered a back injury a week into filming. I had to be replaced at short notice, which is no easy feat so far from LA. The agitation my injury caused around me informed my need to creatively get something out of me, so I made a point of walking around Billings with my camera and focusing on taking photographs. This also served to prove to myself that I wasn’t irreversibly injured (my work demanded a functioning body).

In doing so, I found places in the small city that were novel to me. Uniquely American and discarded. Uniquely hidden or protected. I felt the pioneer mentality play out in the places I visited and felt it move through me. I turned down offers from friendly strangers for a ride to wherever I was going – in favor of seeing what else was hidden from the roadside. I had read about the Terrain Vague movement around that time, so I wanted to find what about the city had been left for nature to reclaim and break down.

In Los Angeles, there is a knowledge I have of its various neighborhoods. They each have an aesthetic and feeling that I know well. I know that a photograph in Echo Park will emote one thing, while in Boyle Heights other feelings can be distilled. Nothing about my time in Billings was predictable.
-Are there any photos in your show that have a surprising story behind them? Any photos that you were able to get that made you feel really lucky?

I can’t say that any if the photographs have any special stories behind them, except perhaps those in Montana. I can’t really say I feel like those captured in LA or in the desert are less special to me either.

As far as luck, I think timing played out in interesting ways in almost all these photographs. I found myself in the right places at the right times. But, that happens when a person puts themselves fully into their work. Many other photographers have captured incredible images, and timing played a huge role. As a photographer, you have to explore and be curious or your lens won’t find those moments.
-In spending some time with the photos in “What Air Ordered” we were struck by the idea that the show seems to pose some questions about how we collectively try to move forward into new territory, mentally anyway, but we do so inside a physical landscape that is littered with yesterday’s artifacts. There is a sense that objects and scenes from mid-century America (and from last year) show us how flawed our ability to move forward may be – or, alternatively, these scenes comprise an ironic commentary on our tendency to get tired of things, set them aside, and let them just sit there rusting while we play with our shinier, newer ideas. Does this observation fit with your own sense of this collection? Is this sort of idea represented in your work more generally?
There is a generally pervasive attitude that abandons the troublesome older thing for whatever is convenient, flashy, and works. People have abandoned Detroit. Because of the ease of access to the next best thing, last year’s model is set aside. Sold back. Put out in the trash. It could be fixed, but why bother? Why even learn how to fix anything?

Psychologically, many people do the same thing. Maybe this will fix my aching heart. Maybe if I just travel the world I will understand. If I just had that, I’d finally be happy. Conversely, to celebrate and repair the broken and forgotten brings a genuine sensation of achievement. I once watched my friend puzzle over a broken camera from the 1920s. She fixed it. The film we found inside was incredible and we marveled for a month over it, wondering what the story must have been. If we just threw the thing away (it was only worth $10) our imaginations and her accomplishments would have been cheapened.

I see yesterday’s artifacts as both beautiful reminders of hardiness, as well as living history. From a material point of view, we don’t make things as long-lasting or as physically heavy as we once did. This makes these items and scenes feel foreign, but one could say the same of our forward progression. Plastics replacing steel sheeting. Engineered obsolescence. The next firmware upgrade.

The weight of these old things informs, emotionally, the tone of my photographs. I feel it stops me in my movement and forces me to reflect on what was, both internally and in a larger sense.

There is indeed an irony in our charging forward to fix yesterday’s problems. I think there is ample opportunity to stop moving and study the past, of what has been. Perhaps in a literal, visual sense, my photographs utilize sparse scenes and older items to provoke a movement inside, and back in time. It may be that the happiness or fulfillment we want is not in a new house or car, it might just be in understanding that which has already happened. To meditate on a certain nothingness (a seemingly barren landscape, actually a space of huge mental potential energy) or the nothingness of the carcass of an old building, can have more impact on our lives and mental wellbeing than keeping abreast of the eternally shifting contemporary.

Every photograph is a piece of history, so it’s fine to get stuck in the past.


Take a look at a few more thoughts on “What Air Ordered” over at Sagebrush Cafe’s blog page. 



Celebrating the Desert – Edwin Vasquez

If the Mojave Desert is an oasis of natural and stubborn quietude set next to the traffic and the hubbub of Los Angeles, it is an oasis that also contains oases – a sort of Russian doll of harbors set within harbors.

Artist Edwin Vasquez sees this desert ethos and puts it into action too, as he is known to pick up hikers in Tehachapi and help them reach their next stop on the Pacific Crest Trail. Vasquez becomes, in a way, an oasis of humanity for the intrepid hiker who has been alone in the hills among the calls of ravens and the buzzing bees.

Stepping down into the desert, they might see some of what Vasquez sees and celebrates in the Antelope Valley environs.

Celebrating the Desert is a series of posts here at AV Arts dedicated to showcasing Mojave Desert-inspired work by local artists. Today’s post features the work of ever-active Antelope Valley artist Edwin Vasquez, who has been featured on the pages of AV Arts before.


From Edwin Vasquez:
The first photograph is from Apollo Park, near the General William J. Fox Airfield. It is an amazing community park. This is one of the three man-made lakes for fishing and boating. It is like an oasis in the middle of our desert.
Apollo Park
The second photograph is in the Piute Ponds, a group of ponds about 10 kilometers southeast of Rosamond. This large marsh is an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.
Piute Ponds
Thank you to the artists who to the artists who have participated in our humble initiative to celebrate our landscape with art.

The call for submissions in our Celebrating the Desert series will remain open until January 1, 2018.

Send in some of your desert-inspired art and a brief bio to AV Arts (poeticwax@rocketmail.com). Also include a link to your website if you have one.

What’s going on in the Antelope Valley?

What is going on in the Antelope Valley? Hey, thanks for asking.

As it happens, there is a good bit going on. If you are looking for some sites to see in the AV, check out the art scene.

The MOAH is currently featuring a show called, “British Invasion.” Among the two dozen artists included in the show is David Hockney, “one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century” (MOAH).  The work ranges in medium and in style as the show intends to both reference and update the 1960s musical and cultural British Invasion. Fittingly, these artists are showing work inspired by American culture, just as the American blues spurred the inspirations and innovations of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

 MOAH is excited to feature the work of several of the artists who participated in the original British Invasion of the sixties as well as a diverse group of up-and-coming and recently established Britons, whose California-inspired body of work could be said to comprise a contemporary British Invasion.

Also on exhibit at the downtown Lancaster art museum – “The Mojave Project.” This show includes paintings and photography by regional artists and artists interested in the desert region. Kim Stringfellow, Ron Pinkerton (image below) and Terry Cervantes are three of the eight artists taking part in this show.

The current exhibit is part of a larger, ongoing project that promises to fascinate desert and city dwellers alike.

From The Mojave Project:

The Mojave Project is a transmedia documentary and curatorial project led by Kim Stringfellow exploring the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Project reconsiders and establishes multiple ways in which to interpret this unique and complex landscape, through association and connection of seemingly unrelated sites, themes, and subjects thus creating a speculative and immersive experience for its audience.

The scope of the conversation represented by the Mojave Project is admirable, especially in a climate wherein flashy news trumps deeper discourse and distraction is king. The artists working with Kim Stringfellow on this project are going against the grain of the instantaneous and developing a substantial and sustained artistic dialogue on what the desert is, what it means, and what it kinds of ideas it contains.

Looking for more inspiration?

Reception: January 26, 6:30-8:30 pm, free. You may also view this exhibit January 26-March 12 during any public event.
Chuck Tedecshi

The city of Palmdale is hosting “Inspired by Nature” – Art by Chuck Tedeschi. The exhibit beings with an opening reception on January 26 and will be on display through March 12 at the Palmdale Playhouse.

Inspired By Nature - Art by Chuck Tedeschi
Chuck Tedeschi


Information on Tedeschi is hard to come by, but his work seems to speak for itself. The artist will be present at the opening reception so you can ask him how in the world he is doing what he does…

Also, as you scan the horizon for more arts-related events keep an eye out for happenings groups like these: LPACThe Lakes & Valleys Art Guild and The Antelope Valley Thespians.

For an outsider’s take on how the intersections between the arts, the desert’s open spaces and the Antelope Valley, check out this article from Curbed LA by Jennifer Swan.

Swan still has a 661 area code, according to her bio, so she is not the outsider here, not exactly. But she portrays an interesting image of the Lancaster, Palmdale, Mojave area – seen through the eyes of Venice Beach folks as a place simultaneously full of potential and kind of down-at-the-heels.

Giving a good amount of space in the article to local figures like Robert Benitez (a director of/at MOAH) and Larissa Nickel (artist, advocate, writer and professor), Swan ultimately poses a sort of bizarre question about whether or not the art scene is about to be gentrified here where the population has surpassed 500,000 and the average annual income is just slightly under the California state median income of $60,000.

Presuming Swan is clear on what gentrification means, she poses a strange and intriguing question that seems fitting for a region on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a city of big dreams, big incomes and also little dreams and little incomes. If there is a “culture creep” spreading from Los Angeles, what exactly does that culture consist of? And what does it mean if that culture – however vibrant, however exploratory, however chic – shows up on the outskirts of town?

The desert of the Antelope Valley certainly has wide open spaces and unoccupied territory, but if people occupy the scrub-brush and the dry-washes does that mean Palmdale has been gentrified? In Brooklyn, people didn’t gentrify the alleys and the warehouses…they bought the brownstones, right?

The Antelope Valley is often a projection, for Angelenos, of their own fantasies and biases and Swan would appear to ask what projection might win out: Will it be one that invites notions of a creatively inspiring blank slate and uses this invitation as a call to take ownership of the region’s arts mantle or one that sees the Antelope Valley as place with an identity of its own, defined by the people and artists who already live here?

The answer may clarify the fact that the ideas behind “desert gentrification” are anchored to psychology and class-consciousness as much as or more so than they are to actual class. Ultimately, Swan’s article examines the battle of ideas and identity that persistently crops up in and around the Antelope Valley. Take a look if you have a chance. It’s a really interesting read.

The last artist’s haven in Los Angeles” by Jennifer Swan.


The space at 5 Acres, a sign that says 5 Acres in red, with a fire pit, surrounded by desert.


Zombies Don’t Text – the appeal of the zombie apocalypse

It’s the apocalypse part that draws us in. Not the zombies.

By Eric M. Martin

Why is the zombie apocalypse so appealing to our collective imagination? No single, stand-out answer to this question has been articulated despite the fact that The Walking Dead has already aired for half a decade and despite the countless articles penned on the subject of the zombie apocalypse and its hold on the public’s attention.

Here’s one idea that, although kind of obvious, doesn’t often come up: In a day-and-age where humanity’s transition into a cyborg state begins to feel inevitable, it’s charming, almost aspirational, to see that trajectory reversed and watch people unplug — smartphones off — and pick up some old school tools…to kill zombies.

Admittedly, there is no science that can explain why zombie movies and television shows have so fully captured the world’s attention. What is clear though is the advent of the zombie fad has made a deep mark on the cinema and television landscape. The Walking Dead has taken over as television’s most popular show and World War Z made buckets of money in 2013 despite the fact that the market is relatively saturated with images of brainless, stumbling hordes.

Zombies are big business, but that’s not all.

People think about zombies so much that a few years ago the United States CDC (Center for Disease Control) actually issued a public statement saying that zombies are not real, but we should be prepared anyway. Now they keep a blog about it.

“The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder ‘How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?’”

The CDC does not theorize as to why zombies have taken up residence in the popular imagination, but theories do abound as to why the zombie apocalypse has already happened on screen so many times. It’s a fascinating question, maybe just as fascinating as the idea of zombies themselves.

Zombies are us. Or are they?

If answers to this question were canned food, we’d be totally stocked for the apocalypse. One popular view is that zombies function as avatars for a sense of helplessness in the larger culture in the face of wide-spread uncertainty. Writing for the WSJ, Daniel W. Drezner argues that “Zombies thrive in popular culture during times of recession, epidemic and general unhappiness” – a popular theory among pop culture writers and analysts.

Zombies are us, this theory suggests, and they also signify the dangers that threaten us, from bank collapse to terrorism. A compelling argument? Many writers point to 9/11 as a touchstone of social threat and insecurity and suggest that the zombie apocalypse resonates with the cultural imagination in large part because we are immanently afraid of catastrophe. Zombieland is realistic, to this way of thinking, and so is Resident Evil

Or maybe we should say this theory posits that the zombie apocalypse is psychologically realistic or “figuratively realistic,” granted, a contradiction in terms. Film-as-catharsis is solid analytical ground, but there seems to be something missing from a theory so glossy.

It’s troubling to try to reconcile the duality of the zombie as a human avatar (representing our powerlessness) and as a symbol of incomprehensible threat (from terrorism, societal collapse, science-gone-wrong, etc.).

In a BBC article tackling this subject, Nicolas Barber draws a short historic line to the paranoid-genetic-science zombie movie, 28 Days Later, citing the British film as the ignition point of the current zombie fad. Taking a further step back in time, the article reflects on the origin story of the zombie concept – Night of the Living Dead (1968), by George Romero.

“They could turn their victims into fellow zombies with one bite. And, just as importantly, they were a metaphor for everything that bothered Romero about the modern world.”

So zombies stand as a metaphor. They always have. There are plenty of metaphors out there, many of which have been objectified in monster movies as vampires and killers and in action movies as cold-hearted Russians with great, fake-sounding accents. Why does the zombie metaphor, in particular, strike a chord today? Can it be that we feel hemmed in by threats beyond our control and so we like to see the embodiment of those threats depicted as slow-moving, easy to kill brain-eaters?

While there is some credence to Barber’s claim that “zombies have stood for unreasoning, destructive conformity” and a literalizing of rampant consumerism, my own inclination is to think that the zombies themselves are not actually at the heart of our fascination with the zombie apocalypse.

It’s the apocalypse part that draws us in. Not the zombies.

Brains and Fresh Air

Given the popularity of zombies and a proliferation of explanations for this continuing fad, there is no surprise in finding out I’m not alone in looking at the specific world of the zombie film as a kind of sublimated response to that of high-speed modern life.

“The world is becoming an increasingly complex place with new modes of social interaction and communication, increased globalization, social change, unprecedented technological advances, financial prosperity mixed with uncertainty, and so on.” (Bradley Voytek, Zombie Research Society (ZRS) advisory board)

The apocalyptic setting of zombie tales in films and on television not only allows for an objectification of societal ills, it also presents an escape from the shifting and increasingly fast-paced social landscape that characterizes contemporary life.

Rick in The Walking Dead is not worried about getting the newest iPhone or posting selfies to his Instagram. His concerns are the stark and simple worries of survival.

In most zombie tales, the machinations of contemporary life have come to an abrupt halt. Cars sit idle in the roads. Computers and television screens do not light up. The 40 hour work week is no more. Classes are not in session.

If the argument seems silly that there is an ironic comfort in the ruined and suddenly pastoral landscape of the apocalypse, consider some of the research being published today.

“[P]sychological research confirms that smartphones are indeed creating a new kind of stress for people at home, at work, and in social settings. The advent of these devices is allowing scientists to identify the line between the handiness and the torment of modern consumer technology” (Observer, Association for Psychologial Science).

Psychology Today reports that 40% of the population suffers from Nomophobia, the fear of being without your smartphone. The tools of work and entertainment that make our lives what they are do not only comfort us. They bring discomfort too. Materialism is not merely a perspective on consumption or a set of values. Materialism, in action, is also a set of mandates to keep up!

So, what could be simpler than a zombie apocalypse? Your enemies are many and they want to eat you, but they are kind of slow and stupid. For the most part, you can be sure the zombies aren’t building bombs or preparing an air strike. More to the point, you don’t have to puzzle over the tone of a zombie email.

Obviously, there is more to the zombie fascination than a sudden shift into pastoral living. World War Z poses some quite global and techie challenges for Brad Pitt’s character. But again, it’s worth considering the role of the apocalyptic setting in the zombie story’s appeal to our collective imagination.

In this setting, the basic humanity of the characters becomes their most significant trait. It almost becomes a super-power. There is a pleasant simplicity to the problems faced by the people in most zombie stories. Don’t get eaten.

Looking out at a sea of abandoned cars on the highway, there is a promise that you don’t have to try to keep up anymore. You can stop adapting to constant, ever-increasingly paced change. In the zombie apocalypse there was one big, final Change – the apocalypse. And that was it.

Now you can settle in and just be you.

Bio: Eric M. Martin is a writer and educator living in southern California. His work has appeared at PopMatters, Steinbeck Now, and KCET.org and in It’s not only Rock ‘N’ Roll: Sexe, drogues, et sagesse du rock (2014).