If we’re being honest, most of us who actually live in Los Angeles avoid Hollywood Boulevard at all costs. Unless there’s something going on there we absolutely have to do, we will be going nowhere near those throngs of tourists and unlicensed costumed characters, thank you very much.
On the night of Saturday, Sept. 7, there’s something happening there that warrants making an exception.
Unfolding on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard will be “LOVE &/OR FEAR: A Celebration of Genders” – an unprecedented, large-scale public performance event that speaks to all varieties of gender expression through the power of art.
The second in an annual series of public art events mounted by L.A. artist collective Dis… Miss, LOVE &/OR FEAR is an inclusive event where all individuals can enjoy an evening in a fearless public space without sexual aggression, privacy invasion, or bodily offense. During the event, audiences are invited to join the artists as they sashay, strut, gallant, tour, parade, march, dance and circulate over two blocks in the heart of this historic and legendary city.
This take-it-to-the-streets art experience is presented by Freewaves, a non-profit that’s devoted to (among other art-related missions) the promotion of cultural engagement through art. The organization’s Executive Director, Anne Bray, has been working in the field of media arts since the mid ’70s as an administrator, artist and teacher. She’s among the group of artists behind Dis… Miss, and she’s the organizer of LOVE &/OR FEAR.
She tells the Blade that the genesis of the event – and of Dis… Miss itself – was sparked long ago within the Freewaves community of artists as they sought to discover the intersections between the concerns that informed each of their work.
“The question is,” she says, “‘Can we find our differences and commonalities and put together forms that allow the audience to see the range that’s happening out there?’ We’ve changed our format almost annually, but that is the through-line.”
“There’s a commonality of all the groups that we’re working with of being pretty marginalized by the mainstream,” she adds. “That brings people together, right there.”
“We’ve been showing artists of all colors and pushing a feminist agenda since we were founded in 1989,” she continues, “and I’ve been curious about how we can care about feminists – which is, to me, an appreciation of women – and at the same time not care about what someone else’s gender is. To me that is an enigma, or an illogical question, but it keeps taunting me to find more answers.”
The link between feminist and queer issues has long struck her as clear. “Twenty years ago,” she says, “I did a program where we had one ‘gay’ video and one feminist video and we just cut back and forth between the two of them. It was very interesting how they wove together. The interests – about the body, about acceptance, about power, about speaking up – were very parallel.”
The shared space between those interests is what Dis… Miss aims to create within its large, interactive public events.
“When I did our event last year in L.A. State Historic Park [“Ain’t I A Womxn?”], it was like, ‘What if we all get in one public space together, and we just see each other?’ It’s this thing of familiarity, how it breeds more understanding. I was extremely happy with that event, it had an openness and a variety that I really appreciated.”
For this year’s follow-up, Bray chose to change the setting from a large, open public park to an iconic, crowded urban center.
“I wanted to challenge us to do a similar event in a more difficult situation,” she says. “And Hollywood Boulevard is one of the more difficult situations in this city.”
The difficulties she refers to are not due to the complications of holding such a gathering on a major city street; since they won’t be blocking traffic on the Boulevard – only one block of a small side street will be closed off during the event – setting things up with the city was not that much of a hassle. The obstacles, she says, are more cultural.
“It’s a very ‘gendered’ street,” she explains. “There are a lot of stores that are peddling a very binary image – from Disney Princesses to shoe stores. It’s binary and it’s mainstream. I am trying to walk down that space between the ‘two’ with this group of people.”
Holding performances in such a public setting has its risks, Bray points out. “There’s a vulnerability to these artists, both physically and psychically,” she says. “We want to be as careful as possible that we’re protecting them, and presenting them in a positive way, and supporting them while they’re being vulnerable.”
To that end, event organizers are providing ample security along the venue throughout the evening, and they have declared the event to be a “Sexual Harassment-Free Zone,” with signage to be prominently posted announcing it as such. They’re also providing self-defense classes on the venue’s main stage at 8 and 10 p.m.
Among the evening’s other planned experiences are a “Rage Room” Limousine, Lesbian Karaoke, and a fashion show featuring models in paper gowns in a crosswalk at Whitley and Hollywood. Reach L.A. will be voguing in the street, and renowned photographer Austin Young will set up a studio to take street portraits of gender-fluid individuals. All this is in addition to the featured work by 20 celebrated local artists – including bauhaus.photo, Catherine Bell, Reanne Estrada, the Fingerjoint, Arshia Haq in collaboration with Cassils, Young Joon Kwak, Thinh Nguyen, Ni Santas, Dakota Noot, and Yozmit. #SNATCHPOWER (The Uhuruverse, Davia Spain, SondriaWRITES and Jordi Phi) will perform for the evening’s finale at 10:30 p.m.
With so many participating artists, working in such a concentrated space in so public a manner, LOVE &/OR FEAR is bound to be a lively evening, full of surprises. There’s an element of Guerilla theatre to it, the excitement of catching people when they’re not expecting it.
“That’s my favorite thing,” beams Anne Bray. “I love it. That, to me, is what public art is.”
LOVE &/ OR FEAR: A Celebration of Genders takes place from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7, from 6500-6600 Hollywood Blvd. Admission is free. For a complete list of artists, schedule, and more information, visit freewaves.org.