Los Angeles Times April 22, 2005

Amid the celestial strands

Davis & Davis' multimedia installation at TELIC has an intriguing back-story.

By Holly Myers, Special to The Times

A decoy auto, a singer and UFOs

The inspiration for "One Year Later," a multimedia installation at TELIC by the husband and wife team Davis & Davis, was a neighborhood parking shortage. The actual installation is a three-dimensional re-creation of Robert Frank's 1956 photograph "Covered Car, Long Beach, California." More compelling than either, however, is the offbeat path between them.

The initial idea, outlined in a statement that is clever and succinct enough to rival the effect of the installation itself, was to build a collapsible decoy car to hold a spot on the street in front of the artists' home while they were away. Long Beach-based [sic] photographers, they turned naturally to Frank's photograph.

This sparked an interest in 1950s Cadillacs, which led them to stories of the Men in Black, the robot-like agents who are purported to appear on the scene of UFO encounters to intimidate witnesses and who are often said to drive 1950s Cadillacs, and then to Johnny Cash, who both drove Cadillacs and sang about them and who also happened to be known as the Man in Black.

Cash debuted at the Grand Ole Opry, they note, one year after Frank's photograph was taken (hence the title of the exhibition), wearing all black, singing "Cry, Cry, Cry," whose lyrics, the artists point out, "speak of surveillance, interrogation and threat, hallmarks of Cold War domestic intelligence operations." The year was also, they add, that of the first Sputnik launch and, in its wake, a rash of purported UFO sightings.

Most of these details appear somewhere in the installation, which revolves around a life-size model of the covered car within which we see the silhouettes of several animatronic men singing along with a recording of the Johnny Cash song. Aside from the novelty of experiencing a familiar photograph in three dimensions, however, the installation offers little that one couldn't gather more concisely from the statement.

The installation was an ambitious undertaking from a technical point of view, and it represents a significant shift in scale from the more intimate photographic tableaux of dolls and toys that have been the artists' mainstay in recent years. But though the direction may be admirable, a degree of nuance was lost in the transition.

TELIC, 975 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, (213) 344-6137, through May 20. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times