I went the other day to a quixotic and surprising space, the Velaslavasay Panorama.  I had heard about this place a few times from some friends, without ever totally figuring out what it was exactly.  As in, a panorama of what, exactly?  The space is an old theater near USC.  The first space we entered was a small room with descriptions of 19th century panoramas.  I gathered that it was some way to represent frontier spaces in a dynamic fashion, but the descriptions themselves were not as revealing or straightforwardly didactic as a typical museum inscription.  Then we turned around, and saw this:

This was the moving mirror, which incidentally didn’t move.  If it did, apparently it would show a series of paintings made on the frontier.  So the statement of dynamicism was somewhat humorously qualified.  It’s difficult to describe, but the feeling was one of looking at something and not being able to quite place, of their being a disjuncture between what you might expect and what you are trying to look at that’s hard to place.  It reminded us very much of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

We then explored the theater area, thinking that perhaps here was the thing we came to see, and it was something to see in itself.  But it was not the panorma, which was at the top of some stairs.  And, indeed, what was there was a panorama:  a large painting on the walls of a circular room.  This painting was seemingly of an apocalyptic or alien arctic scene.  The effect of the painting was furthered by props located within a few feet of the wall, which  represented ice floats and so forth.  The panoramic painting was accompanied by an ambient soundtrack, which consisted in entirely ‘natural’ (sounds of wind, waves, etc) until the sound of a human chorus emerged.  All this time the light of the room was changing, to feature certain parts over others.  It’s hard to explain.

Turns out, yes, in the 19th century, travelers used these sorts of panoramic paintings to give people a sense of what it was like to be in strange new lands.  This panorama was a recreation of that, or at least that idea.   In general, most panoramas would not have any sound, however, or alternating lights, so this panorama was more of an ‘art’ piece.  And yes, the person who made it is connected to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.  Once we learned these things, the strange lighted plaque saying “Effluence of the North” made more sense, i.e. as a title for the piece.

There was also a nice garden, with rabbits.

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I also took this video of the panorama during the voices-light-changing moment.  As soon as I started the video the area I was in turned dark.  I thought about turning it off, but then delayed, and then I was committed; this cycle of though repeated for some time until the moment of illumination.  Dramatic, anticlimactic, confusing, mildly funny:


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