Bondo Wyszpolski

“Off with their heads!” It’s a Queendom at ShockBoxx Gallery

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Diane Strack and Patty Grau (seated) in their “Queendom” installation at “CA 101.” Photo by Deidre Davidson

Killer Queens

A new game of thrones opens Saturday at ShockBoxx in Hermosa Beach

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Hey, and here’s a closer view! Diane Strack and Patty Grau (seated) in their “Queendom” installation at “CA 101.” Photo by Deidre Davidson

It’s back. Huh, what’s back?

“Queendom,” the installation piece by Patty Grau and Diane Strack, which was one of the highlights or hijinks of last month’s “CA 101.” Despite its resemblance to a kitschy photobooth, the work mesmerized nearly everyone who wandered over to it, and that included Mike Collins and Laura Schuler, the proprietors of Hermosa’s ShockBoxx Project Gallery. Four weeks on, and they’ve conceived an art show around the work called “Off With Their Heads.” It opens Saturday.

At the heart of “Queendom” is a throne, and everyone’s invited (one at a time, please!) to mount the steps leading up to it and then sit down. If you’ve never felt like a princess, a few seconds spent surveying the premises from on high and your life may be irrevocably changed.

All of this didn’t just happen overnight, of course, but almost.

No, never again!

In February of this year Patty Grau received a note about “CA 101” and an invitation to submit a proposal or a finished piece. “I’ve sort of been on hiatus, so I let it pass,” she says. Which didn’t keep her artist cronies from inquiring if she had something in mind. Patty was even approached directly by the show’s curator, Nina Zak Laddon, who said in so many words: Aren’t you going to do an installation again this year?

A close-up look at “Queendom.” Photo by Diane Strack

It seemed clear the answer would be no. Here’s why:

“Husband Bruce had made me promise him after the peacock house (for the 2015 event at the AES power plant) to never do anything like this again.” Previously, husband Bruce had been both foreman and carpenter, and probably several other positions in between.

However, Patty went ahead and contacted Diane Strack, whom she’d admired and wanted to work with, and asked if she’d be interested in a collaboration. They chatted about possible projects, and then…

“I don’t know if ‘feminist’ is the right word,” Patty says, “but we’re both strong women. Basically, I’d been fooling around with the concept of why it is always called ‘the kingdom.’ What if it was a queendom? So, that was it, and we just started playing around with concepts and ideas.”

Meanwhile, this year’s “CA 101” venue had been announced (it was held in Riviera Village).

“We went there and looked at it, chose a space, and just built it.” Patty momentarily pauses. “Well, Bruce built it for us.” Yes, the very same Bruce who’d earlier put his foot down and said, Never again. “We worked on the different components at our home studios, and then put it all together.”

Now let’s skip ahead to when the show was up and running.

“Diane and I were there every day,” Patty explains, “making sure that people understood they could not only come in, but experience the Queendom and sit on the throne.”

“Queendom” creators Patty Grau and Diane Strack (front), with ShockBoxx Gallery owners Laura Schuler and Mike Collins, holding “crowns” created by Schuler for “Off With Their Heads.” Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

One of the people she noticed standing nearby, taking in the measure of their sculptural concoction, was Mike Collins.

Patty waved him over and indicated that he, too, should experience the view from a royal perspective. “And he said, ‘Hmm, I have a room in my gallery that’s not exactly the same size, but I wonder if we could put it in there.’ And I said, ‘We’ll make it fit!’” She pauses and grins. “So here we are.”

Here, of course, being the space where “Queendom” and other works are being installed.

“Even before I saw ‘Queendom,’” Mike says, “Laura and I were coming up with the concept for what we want to do with an art gallery in Hermosa Beach. One of our big goals was to reach outside of Hermosa and bring in artists that we had never seen or never met. So, walking into the “CA 101” show, when Patty saw me standing there, looking at their installation, what I was thinking was, ‘Gosh, the people that make these types of installations, who are they? What are they like? Because they’re vibrant.’

“And so, when she’s standing there, beckoning me over, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m getting ready to meet the lady that made this thing.’ And,” now addressing Patty directly, “I think what you said was that the bummer is that your husband was going to see this thing to the dumpster.”

The sound of ominous drums goes here.

The Queen herself? Better start bowing down! Photo by Diane Strack

“Grocery Goddess,” by Lois Keller, is featured in “Off With Their Heads”

Headless hoarse men?

Mike conferred with Laura, and they both agreed, he says, that “Queendom” was “absolutely the perfect change-up for what we’re doing with the gallery.” It also quickly became the starting point for a show built up around it.

The throne, plus its accoutrements and accessories, says Laura, “is going to be a fantastic addition to the gallery, a big step because it’s very immersive and we haven’t had something like that before. So it’s adding a new dimension to what we’re giving to the audience. When Mike and I were there that day (at “CA 101”), and we had chatted about bringing you guys in, we came up with the name (for the larger show) right on the spot.”

The name, of course, was “Off With Their Heads,” and Mike mentions that the show throws in a nod to “Game of Thrones.” A few of the submissions that began coming in from artists made some reference to it, others made reference to the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” and as for what exactly made the final cut and what didn’t is something we’ll have to find out for ourselves on Saturday evening.

The space is not large, but Mike says there’ll be at least 20 other works. “Queendom” itself has pride of place in a semi-enclosed room at the rear of the gallery.

Will there be courtly music? Rameau or Handel, perhaps? Mike poses a question of his own: Do you know any harp players? For a few moments, several ideas fly back and forth. “The whole time we were working on it,” Patty says, “we kept playing Queen’s ‘Killer Queen.’” A fine song, and a perfect title for this article, don’t you agree?

“Cirque,” by Theodosa Marchant, is among the works in “Off With Their Heads”

Sources and inspirations

“Queendom,” take two, will not be an exact replica of the installation seen last month, because Diane went out (perhaps in anticipation of the “dumpster” trip) and sold some of the items that were attached to the side panels. So, in the meantime, she’s been creating new work and I suspect the end result will be more elaborate than before.

Diane then confesses that she’s been a huge fan of “Game of Thrones.” “From the beginning,” she says, she kept pushing Patty, telling her, “We have to have a big-ass throne!”

Then they went wild, so to speak.

“I kept buying stuff and throwing it at Patty,” Diane continues. “We raided every Goodwill and Salvation Army and it was always ‘Use this! Use that!’ But she was the architect of putting together the throne, and Bruce was the chief engineer. He was the one that kept it together and stabilized it and said, ‘It’s not gonna work and I have to do this…’”

The Queen (or at least her hairstyle) was modeled after Diane’s daughter. The background photos are among the 300 taken of visiting “throne-sitters” at the “CA 101” art show last month. Photo by Diane Strack

She again mentions her “Game of Thrones” inspiration, decorated skulls, and decapitated doll heads. She also mentions Catherine the Great as a muse and model.

“Which leads me back to the beginning conversation,” Patty says, “about what would be the difference if it was a queendom (as opposed to a kingdom). Would it be, like, unicorns and all pink and purple? And Diane said ‘Some whips and chains perhaps?’ and then we were like, ‘Oh, that’s right!’ It wouldn’t necessarily be the most powerful, perfect world, because you just might make us mad enough to press that button also.

“In the end,” Patty concludes, “we kind of just melded all those things. The basic theme is that women, and this is a quote from Serena Williams, ‘Women can do anything, and we do do everything; we just want to look pretty.’”

There you go. They are, of course, pretty in pink or whatever color they choose… and killer queens for a day, a week, or at least until the show comes down after July 16. Let us then hope that Bruce doesn’t cart it away to the dumpster.

Off With Their Heads, featuring Queendom and other works, opens Saturday with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. at ShockBoxx Project Gallery, 636 Cypress Ave., Hermosa Beach. Tarot readings from 12 noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Additional hours, July 13 through July 16, 4 to 8 p.m. Closes Sunday, July 16. Call (310) 989-4323 or go to shockboxxproject.com. ER

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