On Sunday we spent the later part of our afternoon trekking to the deep valley for tea. No, not the pinkies-up, triangle-sandwiches-type of tea. Instead we attended Tea Ceremony, a performance organized for Current:LA Water Public Art Biennial by Lauren W. Deutsch and Pacific Rim Arts. Here we would join Nakada Sokei, sensei, and practitioners from Urasenke Tankokai Los Angeles as they performed chado (“the way of tea”) using precious water from the LA River that has been filtered and purified. Yes, the idea of anyone drinking anything from the LA river, purified or not, made us cringe…until we did it ourselves.
But first, trying to actually find Tea Ceremony was an acute challenge as Lake Balboa is large and the Current LA signs were small and fairly nonexistent. We were on the lookout for a particular landmark—Rirkrit Tiravanija‘s “Untitled 2016 (LA water, water pavilion).” It’s an intimate, timber-frame structure that has become home to weekly events centered on public interaction with the LA River like the one we were attempting to witness.
Arriving just as the ceremony began we found shady spots under nearby trees to plop ourselves down and watch. We looked around to see who had actually made it out here and found a crowd of 30 or so that was partially there on purpose and partially there trying to have a nice time with their kids at the park, visibly wondering what all these crazy people were being so serious and solemn about. We kept a distance at first and then followed along and moved in closer, observing the tea ceremony from the direct edges of the structure. One woman was scolded for bringing her dog that close and children most of whom were playfully pretending to fish in the creek next to the ceremony were being side-eyed often.
Towards the end of the ceremony Hans Ulrich Obrist showed up to give his support, a few air kisses, and joined the artist and organizers in a standing circle like cool kids on the playground. Something about Obrist in a full suit in the summer in a park in the valley tickled us. Gotta keep up that brand you know?
Anyhow, there was no denying the beauty of the ceremony and moment of peace and quiet it allotted us even among the hyper Sunday afternoon park noise. There was also no denying that is was nice to see art makes it way to The Valley, a part of LA usually lacking severely in that department. We stayed for about an hour just watching the practice, like a meditation of our own. Momentarily we did in fact feel connected to people and place and maybe even the unsanitary-looking water we sat by. Or had we just drank the river Kool-Aid? We’ll never know but what we DO know is that instead of gallery beers we ended this performance with an actual drink from the river (solar purified on the spot) and three days later lived to tell about it. So we’re calling this one a success.
- Beverly Western