Renée Parkhurst’s Experiential “PURE” Probes the Push and Pull Between Innocence and Wickedness

Renée Parkhurst has never been one to shy away from intensity. The LA-based photographer is the force of nature behind many of our favorite photos, the ones that stare defiantly down the throat of a feeling and stop us in our tracks with their evocative and unsettling energy. Her work is never watered down, tapping into something animalistic and authentic that prowls inside all of us, and her photos almost seem symbolic of the city of angels itself, soft and sun-drenched yet tinged with the strange and surreal, switching seamlessly between lighthearted innocence and the shadowy underbelly of darkness. She takes this concept a step further with her debut solo photography exhibit, aptly titled PURE, which opens this weekend at the First Congregational Church of LA and delves deep into the push and pull between innocence and wickedness that has haunted humanity since the dawn of time.

The show tells a variety of vivid stories about the ways we blur the lines between lightness and darkness through temptation, desire, hunger, greed, lust, survival, sexuality, and innocence. Featured in the photographs is enigmatic synth pop and performance artist Geneva Jacuzzi, who serves as the body of work’s muse, bringing a cinematic quality to the photographs, which range from sweet to sensual to sinister.

As if boldly exploring the dark underbelly of purity wasn’t intriguing enough, PURE is more than just a photography exhibit – it’s also a one of a kind sensory experience that is bound to be equal parts thrilling and unsettling. The exhibit takes place in a stunning Gothic Revival church and includes elements from the photos, such as neon lighting and a 20 foot bird cage, as well as piano accompaniment from musician Nick Leng. The result is that the exhibition itself is an extension of the art, with viewers finding themselves hearing and feeling the work as they witness it, fully immersed in the wild and weird gray area between lightness and darkness. Renée was kind enough to answer a few of our probing questions about the show’s conception, her connection with Geneva, and why art should always be a full-body sensory experience.

Don’t miss this unique art experience, which opens Sunday, September 2nd from 7-9PM at the First Congregational Church of LA (540 S. Commonwealth Ave, LA CA 90020). There will also be an afterparty at The Echo, with DJ sets from Geneva herself – grab your tickets for that here.

Q&A

Live FAST: Hi Renée! Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind your upcoming solo show, PURE. 

Renée Parkhurst: The concept behind PURE sits with my ideology and also questioning behind human intention and our most natural state, teetering between wickedness and purity. The push and pull we live with inside of us through temptation, desire, sexuality, hunger, survival, greed, love, lust, and innocence. The question of innocence as a child, and looking at the many aspects of day by day life that shape us and allow us to evolve. Every shoot has its own story within. For example, in the image with the crows, Geneva is looking to her left which represents heaven and a luminous future, while to her right, the crows, which represent a familiar hell and an unsettled past, pass along messages while she is on the phone with her eyes unable to see forward. There are children leaping towards an ominous city, a snake wrapped around her lower torso that has a detailed sexual representation, an all white group scene with angel statues and white flags mocking the ideology of surrendering, a story about masochistic tendencies and trapping oneself in unhappiness because of a secret adoration for it. I could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here…

LF: The show explores humanity’s thorny relationship with purity and wickedness – what interests you about this push and pull between light and dark?

RP: It’s interesting because we deal with it every single day. It’s better to understand humans in a more stripped down way – as we are, as animals. We can understand one another a little better that way.

LF: PURE heavily features performance artist and musician Geneva Jacuzzi. How did she become the muse for this body of work?

RP: I saw Geneva play when I was on psychedelics sometime last year, and not only did I fall in love with her, but I also saw a lot of myself in her form of expression and got a vision for us to make something magical together. I emailed her the next day and within two weeks we had started to shoot and planned this big project for the next year to come. She is such a special person.

LF: The show will take place in a church complete with dim lighting, a 20-foot birdcage, and piano accompaniment. How does this play into the concept behind the show?

RP: A lot of the props are from the photoshoots, so it goes into the concept and I thought it would be cool to bring them back in. I wanted to use these things to make people feel like they were in the images.

LF: Why was it important to you for the show to have this experiential element?

RP: I want the space and the time spent with the work to be an experience in itself, touching as many of the senses as possible to go side by side with the feeling behind the concept. As if you’re listening to the same ambient soundtrack or punk song I was when I was coming up with the creative direction for each photo. The playlist after the piano set will go in 30 minute sets based on mood and speed. Getting all the senses on the same page of the work will bring more understanding to the meaning behind it.

LF: What makes a good photograph?

RP: Style.

LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?

RP: Leave the country earlier.

LF: What’s next for you? 

RP: Potentially heading to Paris for Fashion Week, then back to a normal shooting schedule, and then finding the next musician(s) for my exhibition project #2 for 2019.

L’Agent Goodies…