Panorama-kan at Velaslavasay 1

Architecture & Design · Visual arts

panorama-smallThe 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.

The most important Panorama-kan in Japan — the Nippon Panorama in Asakusa, Tokyo, built in 1890 — illustrated the Battle of Vicksburg scene from the Civil War. (General Grant was hot stuff in Japan in those days.) Other panoramas featured the Battle of Pyongyang (Sino-Japanese War) and the Battle of Port Arthur (Russo-Japanese War).  The profusion of western-style war scenes, Dr. Kusahara suggests, smoothed acceptance for Japan’s joining the coalition for the great European war of 1914.
At union_theatre_facade2L.A.’s own panorama hall, Velaslavasay, the talented impresario Sara Velas has transformed an old movie house, the Union, into a pleasure dome for exhibiting the weird, kooky and sideways.

A memorable recent Panorama program screened Lewis Klahr’s early inventive films.

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.


One comment on “Panorama-kan at Velaslavasay

  1. Lauren Braun Jan 30,2010 2:02 pm

    This is really interesting…. I love the idea of the old Ukiyo-e paintings that showed different vantage points of a mountain or landscape spaced out on a single scroll. This seems directly related to that. Thanks for posting!

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