The national tour of SUN & SEA literally beaches at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA October 14th through the 16th. In its west coast debut, the producers of SUN & SEA will transform the Frank Gehry-designed former warehouse space into a sunny day at the beach with the installation of twenty-five tons of sand. Touring vocalists will be supplemented by L.A.-based choral group Tonality.
Had the chance to get some behind-the-scenes’ scoop from MOCA’s associate curator of performance and programs Alex Sloane.
In your eight years organizing the performance program at MoMA PS1 in New York City, have you experienced anything like SUN & SEA?
At MoMA PS1 I had the opportunity to organize a wide variety of programs of different scopes and scales, including commissions, performance exhibitions, residencies, concerts, and touring works. However, I have never had the opportunity to work on a national tour, nor to collaborate with several institutions to realize a project. As someone who only arrived in Los Angeles in June, it has been fantastic to work closely with my colleagues at CAP UCLA and the Hammer Museum to bring SUN & SEA to L.A. and make this project a reality.
What would your three-line pitch for SUN & SEA be?
At a time when the impact of climate change is becoming more apparent every day, SUN & SEA encapsulates humanity’s apathy and laziness in the face of this global crisis. A sunny day at the beach acts as a benign facade, but the pastel tableaux begin to crack as the performers sing of extreme weather, the environmental impact of global tourism, and species extinction.
SUN & SEA was awarded the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. How did MOCA become part of its U.S. tour?
The L.A. leg of the U.S. tour was confirmed in April 2021, so fairly recently! Klaus Biesenbach, Annie Philbin, and Kristy Edmonds, Directors of MOCA, Hammer, and CAP UCLA respectively, joined forces to bring this exceptional work to L.A.
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, a former police car warehouse in L.A.’s Little Tokyo District renovated by the architect Frank Gehry, has over 40,000 square feet of exhibition space. How much of this exhibition space will be filled with the twenty-five tons of sand for SUN & SEA?
In L.A. we will use approximately 10-11 tons of sand. Our presentation will take place in a double height gallery at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA which is ideally suited for the production. The beach will measure approximately 1300 square feet and will be filled with enough sand to reach 5cm (2″) depth throughout.
The U.S. tour has just begun September 15th at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn. There’s only three or four days between each toured city, with five days between the close of SUN & SEA at The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas, and its opening at MOCA in Los Angeles. How long will/does the sand installation take?
The sand does not travel between locations. The sand for our presentation at The Geffen is provided by Terra Form, a local vendor that MOCA has worked with previously, who will source the sand from a quarry in Irwindale. It should take one day to be delivered and installed.
I can’t envision twenty-five tons of sand. Do you know how many extra-duty trucks twenty-five tons fills?
The sand will be delivered in two trucks, each with a 40-yard bin.
Have you been told if the removal of the sand will be easier than the install?
The process to install and remove the sand is very similar. We are constructing a scaffold to form the viewing platform which means that the sand will be manually transferred in and out of the space using wheelbarrows, shovels, and brooms.
Have you chosen which schools and playgrounds you’ll be donating the sand to?
Terra Form, the vendor who is providing the sand, will donate the sand to replenish sand boxes in daycare playgrounds across the Cal State L.A. campus.
Do you have to build an encompassing balcony for the SUN & SEA audience? Or is there an existing structure you’re adapting?
We have a gallery space with a double height ceiling that is being used to stage SUN & SEA. The mezzanine balcony, or viewing platform, will be constructed using scaffolding provided by Mike Brown Grandstands. From the platform the audience will be able to look down on the beach from four sides.
Was there an existing sound system in The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, or did you start from scratch for SUN & SEA?
We are bringing in a sound system that meets the specifications of the Company’s technical rider. The technical production of SUN & SEA is being coordinated by our collaborators at CAP UCLA.
Each tour city mixes in civilians with the singing cast. What prompted MOCA to ‘mix in’ members of L.A.-based choral group Tonality?
We wanted to make sure that our “beach community” was representative of the racial, gender, and economic diversity of the city. Tonality is an award-winning ensemble led by artistic director Alexander Lloyd Blake and was created as an inclusive group that represents the diverse ethnicities and cultures within LA. CAP UCLA had worked with Tonality previously and the suggestion to involve them was met with immediate enthusiasm from the artists. Ten members of Tonality will join the core cast on the beach, some singing and some not. Lina Lapelytė has been working with Blake to help Tonality learn the music so that they can integrate seamlessly with the cast when they arrive in L.A.
When did your responsibilities as operating curator of SUN & SEA begin? The moment MOCA was added to the U.S. tour?
My involvement on the project started when the three L.A. partner organizations were considering the feasibility of the project. Once we had determined it was possible, I began to work closely with CAP and the Hammer, in consultation with the artists and their tour producers, to determine a budget and how to best realize this performance in our space.
When does these responsibilities conclude? When the last speck of sand is removed?
The project will conclude when the Company has safely departed for Europe, the sand and scaffolding have been removed, all vendors and contractors have been paid, and the documentation has been fully edited and approved for our archives.
I see listed among SUN & SEA‘s credits, Goda Budvytytė for Visual identity. What does Goda do and what is ‘visual identity’?
Goda is responsible for creating SUN & SEA‘s graphic identity. She developed the layout and graphic design for the libretto, (which will be available to all guests as a printed version and a QR code) as well as the original promotional posters and print materials. Goda was also responsible for creating the SUN & SEA logo.
Whom of the touring crew will you be having the most facetime? The tour coordinator/stage manager? The technical director?
I have been working most closely with Erika Urbelevič, tour coordinator/stage manager and Aušra Simanavičiūtė, tour producer. The L.A. presenting partners have worked closely with Lique Van Gerven (technical director) and Lina Lapelytė to finesse the technical aspects of the production and to incorporate the members of Tonality into the music composition. Once the Company arrives in L.A. we will work closely with all three artists, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, and the production crew to make sure all aspects of the performance are accounted for.
Has any program you curated at MoMA PS1 involved such a large scope as SUN & SEA?
Each project is very different. I had the opportunity to work on the exhibition Retrospective by Xavier Le Roy which featured performance for six hours a day, five days a week, for ten weeks and site-specific installations in the Rockaways with Katharina Grosse and Yayoi Kusama all of which demanded a great deal of coordination and creative problem solving with the artists, their teams, and, in the case of the Rockaways projects, the National Park Service. Yet, none of them involved traveling a large Company across the country during a pandemic. Making sure that everyone – our cast, crew, and audience – is safe has certainly been an added challenge but after so many months of virtual programming the opportunity to present a work in person is very special, especially one that so acutely addresses the global crisis of our time, climate change.
Have you yourself had the chance to experience a performance of SUN & SEA?
Only documentation… I cannot wait to experience the performance live for the first time in L.A.!
Are you planning to institute a SUNDAY SESSIONS program at MOCA, similar to the one you started at MoMA PS!?
The format of future programming is still in development, but I aim to make MOCA synonymous with innovative performance programming. Moreover, I envision The Geffen as a space that not only presents touring or existing projects but also supports artists throughout their process, especially those based here in L.A., whether through site-specific commissions, residencies, or providing rehearsal space. The mess of development and workshopping new ideas is just as exciting as the final product.
What’s your next project after SUN & SEA?
I have a number of upcoming projects that have not yet been announced but span contemporary music, film, and community organization. Alongside these projects I am working on an upcoming exhibition by Simone Forti, in collaboration with my colleague Rebecca Lowery, that will open at MOCA in 2022.
For ticket availability on SUN & SEA October 14th through 16th; log onto www.moca.org/exhibition/sun-sea