Boy on a bicycle | Debra Weber, Courtesy of UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center La Raza AB s9

First Person: Composer Lisa Bielawa on 'Vireo'

Witches. Wisdom. Wonder. Vireo is an opera created for TV and online broadcast that considers the usage of "female hysteria" throughout the decades. The multi-episode production was composed by Lisa Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte. "Vireo" is the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award.

Twenty years ago composer Lisa Bielawa was inspired by her studies of hysteria and worked with librettist Erik Ehn to create the work "Vireo." Artbound spoke with Bielawa to explore the stories behind the creation of "Vireo" and the historical context behind the episodic opera.

On the conceptual basis of "Vireo"

Vireo really had its birth in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale. I was writing a senior essay that ended up being three times as long as it was supposed to be. It kind of took over my life. I initially thought that I was looking at collaborative male authorship on the subject of female protagonists. But what I found was much, much more than I had bargained for.

It's just unbelievable how many collaborative writings -- case histories, trial documents, evidence of communities of men throughout Western history -- who convened in order to create all kinds of discourse around the same subject matter, which was teenage girls, who were having some kind of transcendent experience.

What actual fields these men were from changed: Were they doctors? Were they priests? In some cases they were experimental artists, who were giving young girls absinthe in the back of a bar, and watching them create spontaneous, automatic poetry.

But the evidence of these young girls was in these collaborative documents that I found. These writings or trial documents that I found, in which there was at the center of it, a young teenage girl. But her own direct voice was missing. It was through the prismatic analysis of what she was saying and doing that you learned about the re-articulation of this phenomenon throughout Western history.

That senior essay is still filed there somewhere at Yale, but I came away from my experience at Yale with all of this research. I remember when Erik Ehn and I started working on this opera. It was before emails, of course. I used to send these thick packages to him. I couldn't believe I was working with someone who would read this stuff. I finally felt that I had found a way to engage with the stuff that I had found through this collaboration and through this project.

 

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La Raza

In East Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, a group of young activists used creative tools like writing and photography as a means for community organizing, providing a platform for the Chicano Movement in the form of the bilingual newspaper/magazine La Raza. In the process, the young activists became artists themselves and articulated a visual language that shed light on the daily life, concerns and struggles of the Mexican-American experience in Southern California and provided a voice to the Chicano Rights Movement.

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No Trespassing: A Survey of Environmental Art

Throughout its history, the natural beauty of California has inspired artists from around the world from 19th-century plein air painting of pastoral valleys and coasts to early 20th-century photography of the wilderness (embodied famously in the work of Ansel Adams) and the birth of the light and space movement in the 1960s. Today, as artists continue to engage with California’s environment, they echo and critique earlier art practices that represent nature in “The Golden State” in a particular way. Featuring artists Richard Misrach and Hillary Mushkin.

Artist and Mother

This episode profiles four California artists who make motherhood a part of their art: Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Andrea Chung, Rebecca Campbell and Tanya Aguiñiga. There's a persisting assumption in contemporary art circles that you can't be a good artist and good mother both. But these artists are working to shatter this cliché, juggling demands of career and family and finding inspiring ways to explore the maternal in their art.

The Art of Basket Weaving

Native American basketry has long been viewed as a community craft, yet the artistic quality and value of these baskets are on par with other fine art. Now Native peoples across the country are revitalizing basketry traditions and the country looks to California as a leader in basket weaving revitalization.

That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright In Los Angeles

During his time spent in Southern California in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright accelerated the search for an authentic L.A. architecture that was suitable to the city's culture and landscape. Writer/Director Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, explores the houses the legendary architect built in Los Angeles. The documentary also delves into the critic's provocative theory that these homes were also a means of artistic catharsis for Wright, who was recovering from a violent tragic episode in his life.