Notes on the Project X Forums of 2015

Shana Lutker

As X-TRA’s faithful readers might recall, Project X Foundation, the publisher of X-TRA, found its footing in the early 1990s as Project X, an affiliation of self-starting artists who decided to create outlets for the kind of art and writing that they felt was underserved in Los Angeles. Founding members Stephen Berens and Ellen Birrell were soon joined by a rotating group of fellow artists whose works and words graced the shows and the series of Project X publications—newsprint broadsheets—that accompanied each exhibition. From 1992 to 1998, eight Project X exhibitions took place, involving over fifty artists, encompassing many different themes, and taking place at a range of venues in greater Los Angeles.

The Project X exhibitions have been the focus of a year-long curatorial research residency awarded to Project X by 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Organized by curatorial fellow Kellie Lanham and me, Project X has hosted monthly public forums dedicated to each of the exhibitions, conducted interviews with participants, and collected documentation and ephemera. As the memories and intentions behind these exhibitions are unearthed and examined twenty years later, it’s made for generative and generous discussions across generations of artists, curators, writers, and students, and provided opportunities to look at the Los Angeles art world of the nineties in relation to what is happening now. All of the Project X Forums were recorded and are available for streaming online at X-TRAonline.org/projectxforums.

Program for Paradise was the fifth Project X exhibition. Conceived and coordinated by Stephen Berens, Ellen Birrell, and Elizabeth Bryant, Program for Paradise was comprised of performances, site works, writings, and readings at the Remsen Bird Hillside Theater at Occidental College in March 1995. Foregrounding the site of the bucolic Grecian amphitheater as muse, Program for Paradise included performances by Anita Pace, Marnie Weber, and Liz Young; site works by Stephen Berens, Ellen Birrell, Elizabeth Bryant, Ben Chase, Andrew Freeman, Robert Gero, Mara Lonner, and Mike Pierzynski; and writings and readings by Lisa Anne Auerbach, David Bunn, Kathleen Johnson, Charles LaBelle, Terri Phillips, Jan Tumlir, and Eve Wood. Marnie Weber coordinated the performances, and Tyler Stallings and David Bunn organized the writers. Program for Paradise was also accompanied by a newsprint publication.

On July 30, 2015, Project X hosted Project X Forum 5: Revisiting Program for Paradise, a series of readings and performances at the original hillside theater site. Lucky Dragons and Sarah Petersen presented new performances based on Stephen Berens and Ellen Birrell’s site works. Kathleen Johnson read Lisa Anne Auerbach’s writing from Program for Paradise, and Rénee Petropoulos presented Kathleen Johnson’s. I invited Jan Tumlir to reread his piece from the original Program for Paradise publication. Titled “Trouble,” the text was purported to be an excerpt from a novel that Tumlir never finished. Instead, Tumlir took the opportunity to revisit and reevaluate the 1995 piece. The response he delivered at the Project X Forum is printed on the following pages.

Shana Lutker is an artist and Executive Director of Project X Foundation for Art & Criticism.

Further Reading