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Three Diffractions of LA

Issue: 8ec0S21qS01i

I have been trying to make an artwork about Los Angeles since 2014. But I can only see National Boulevard through a kaleidoscope and my blood runs cold when I look at the place where the Lost & Found Bar is supposed to be. Instead there is a collapsing neutron star which has absorbed most of the planetary system and draws in a sunset of July 2020, orange and pink and flecked with LAPD helicopters. The swinging doors reveal dark wood and red leather before they shudder to a close, and it’s daylight again.

Los Angeles was one of the cities where the Bureau of Indian Affairs, through a policy called the Indian Relocation Act, promised support for Indian relocation to major cities and the termination of treaty-promised government support on reservations. I can only imagine why my 21-year-old grandmother would have boarded a bus and headed here, thousands of miles away from South Dakota. I can imagine it would have something to do with Roswell Bottum, the presiding judge who found her two white male mid-twenties assaulters not guilty when she was only 16. I can imagine it would have to do with getting pregnant and not being able to tell a soul. 

LA is a collapsing neutron star. At once it refracts Indian Alley, where I have seen archival photos from the Urban American Indian Involvement, scanning them slowly for a flash of my grandmother or my grandfather. But they handle the photos with white gloves, flipping them slowly, so they can respectfully decline to show me any of the images of passed-out drunks. Downtown LA shifts and refracts a hundred raves in the Toy District, and then I’m staring out of the smoking section of The Lash, while Indian Alley stares back.

In 2012 I moved to Valley Village to attend art school, living with a friend I used to rave with. On the corner by my house was a collapsing neutron star. The Fox Fire Room is lined with the exact same dark wood and the exact same deep red leather as Lost & Found Bar. It has the exact same swinging doors. I only went once with a friend, but sat outside, away from the center. I was born in Sylmar, not too far from the Fox Fire Room. Born in the valley die in the valley, as I always say.

American Indian men are between 1.2 and 1.7 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men, and American Indian women are between 1.1 and 2.1 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women. Indians are un-fixed: they disappear into the in-betweens, the boundary between demographics, the valley of “Other.” The origin of the LAPD (the largest police force in the world) is the Los Angeles Raiders, a posse founded in 1850 to pursue Indian raiders, contributing to the California genocide. In June, I stare out from the corner of Hollywood and Vine. The National Guard, LAPD, and LA Sheriff’s Department stare back. Cops make me shake.

I talk to my cousin Corey Stover on the phone and he teaches me hokšíkilowaŋpi (to sing a lullaby); we are both cruelly out of tune. He is in Oglala Nation, I am in LA, and we perform our distance. He sings to me and I to him, a short melody. I watch LAPD helicopters out the window of 242 East Avenue 41 and compose a short drone.

I stand on a hill with artist Emilja Skarnulyte looking at hovering helicopters, two hours after the 5pm LA curfew and six hours after Santa Monica’s 1pm curfew. The helicopters hover, watching for a sign. I am too shaky, so Emilja takes these two beautiful tracking shots with a calm eye. The sky is beautiful and disgusting. The air is full of cremated bodies, smoke from raging fires, the exhaled breath of cops. LA closes in on my mind like one of the 19 police helicopters that circle where I sleep. Helicopter exhaust streams into the window, mixed with highway exhaust. On a subatomic level, I am diffracting into LA smog.

It’s election night, and artist Riel Bellow teaches me a lullaby in Spanish. We talk star maps and light cones and strange overlaps in time and space. What are the chances my partner’s grandfather would spend the end of his life sitting daily in the Lost & Found Bar? How did I always get a call from the Lost & Found when I would sneak to LA to rave? What are the chances I went to a pool in July, where I ran into my partner’s dad’s chiropractor and his neighbor, permanent frequenters of the Lost & Found? One of my closest friends in the rave scene takes his partner to the Lost & Found before every flight? How much of me is diffracted across generations? Am I in the Lost & Found?

My grandfather tries to make sense of our briefly materialized forms. “Our spirits, they come from over there [points away], part of creation. They come in through someone’s body and then that body grows and they’re supposed to know about that. But when they don’t, what happens is, they get lost and they get stuck here. And then they get confused. They don’t know what to do, they don’t know which direction to go, they don’t know what decision to make in life that’s the correct one.”

Proposal for an artwork: Use GPS data, 3D mapping visualizations, geologic analysis, topographic mapping, reconstruction, economic mapping, aircraft with Lidar and chemical detection sensors, 360 cameras to map the inside of the Lost & Found. Interview regulars, ask them to describe what home looks like. 


Kite, aka Suzanne Kite, is an Oglala Lakota performance artist, visual artist, and composer raised in Southern California, with a BFA from CalArts in Music Composition, an MFA from Bard College, and is a PhD candidate at Concordia University where she is a Research Assistant for the Initiative for Indigenous Futures. Her research is concerned with contemporary Lakota ontologies which include nonhuman beings and the development of protocols and relations for stones, metals, and Artificial Intelligence, through art-making, research-creation, computational media, and performance practice. Recently, Kite has developed Machine Learning body and hair interfaces, carbon fiber sculptures, and immersive installations. Kite has also published in several journals and magazines, including in The Journal of Design and Science (MIT Press), where the award winning article, “Making Kin with Machines,” co-authored with Jason Lewis, Noelani Arista, and Archer Pechawis, was featured.