The Rise of Rome: Questions for Emi Fontana

With one month remaining in Mike Kelley and Michael Smith’s installation “A Voyage of Growth and Discovery,” Los Angeles-based non-profit public art organization West of Rome brought the exhibition to life with a benefit event last week. Housed in Kelley’s 15,500 square-foot studio in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles since May 26, the core of the exhibition is a ring of six massive jungle gym-like steel sculptures by Kelley, adorned with stuffed animals and pennant flags. These are surrounded by a multi-part video piece by Smith on six rear-projection screens (suspended from the ceiling, above eye-level) in which the artist’s alter-ego, Baby IKKI, explores the notoriously free-spirited festival Burning Man. This video piece set the tone for the evening, which through live performances heightened the exhibition’s psychedelic playhouse vibe. Guests were greeted by a marching band and Carnival-style dancer, and then given white baby bibs (name-customized in pastel-hued embroidery for those attendees who RSVP-ed early enough). I asked West of Rome’s executive and creative director, Emi Fontana (pictured, left), a few questions about the event and her role as the organization’s curator:

LILLY SLEZAK: The press release for “A Voyage of Growth and Discovery” describes the exhibition as an “immersive art experience.” What do you find important about the immersive aspect?

EMI FONTANA: I like the idea of the viewer going trough this immersive art experience as an existential journey, or “voyage.” When beginning work on a show I never have a final idea of how it should play out, which would limit the creative process. When the artists started to work on the show, we didn’t know exactly what would have been in terms of form. The first thing that we knew is that we came back from the festival in Black Rock desert with 12 hours of footage.