The ever-charming Velaslavasay Panorama, located in L.A.’s Pico-Union neighborhood, was the site of media art scholar Machiko Kusahara’s talk, “Panorama-kan of Meiji Japan,” on a recent scholarly Saturday night.
Dr. Kusahara discussed the popular entertainment halls — called panorama-kan in Japanese. They were a “craze,” to borrow the lecturer’s expression, from 1890-1910.
Dozens of the rotundas sprang up all over Japan — in parks or on the grounds of Buddhist temples, as a means of pre-cinema popular entertainment. A lovely moment for painters, panoramas were in-the-round oil paintings, scenic tableaux, commonly depicting historical events. In Meiji-era Japan, Dr. Kusahara says, panoramas performed a propaganda function by inculcating the Japanese population in Western ideas and culture.
Post-performance receptions in the Velaslavasay’s well-tended urban garden offer the serious-minded audience themed refreshments. At a North Pole exploration lecture a few months ago, Sara served beef jerky and blubber.
Climbing the spiral staircase to visit the 3-D panorama is de riguer. Now on view is “Effulgence of the North,” an Antarctic-inspired installed environment, replete with eerie lighting and ambient sound … icebergs cracking apart … the honking of seals …genuinely cold and creepy. I find it kind of terrifying.
Dr. Kusahara, a collector as obsessed as many in her audience, is curating the upcoming UCLA show, “Gadget Okay.” The way-cool name makes us want to attend.