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Amy's Column 01 - Notes on Los Angeles

Auspicious buildings for believers
The Blackwelder Show
Fiona Connor
Culver City, Los Angeles, 2009
Image courtesy Amy Howden Chapman

It feels like Los Angeles is a city that you can engage with as little or as much as you want. I think this has a lot to do with the way that you travel around the city, which for most people is by car - a car being primarily a private space. Living here you have to make a real effort to be on the street or on a bus or in any space which you are physically sharing with strangers.

Los Angeles is not a single entity but rather a place made up of numerous municipalities and local areas that together constitute an idea of ‘LA’. Interestingly areas such as Culver City, and Hollywood are said to be separate municipalities partly as they receive revenue from the oil that is still pumped behind fake facade’s all over their neighbourhoods.

The lack of common public spaces in Los Angles is in many respects made up for by the rich experimentation in the arts and in architecture in private, often domestic spaces around the city. One of the most well know historical examples of this is the Shindler house, in West Hollywood, built in 1922, you can still visit today. The house was built with the utopian ideal in mind of creating a communal creative domestic space. It differs from usual residential architecture in that the living room, dining room and bedrooms are replaced with a series of cooperative live/work spaces. Designed to house two families, the house also contained a guest studio, which artist, dancers and Hollywood stars of the time where meant to and did for a time inhabit.

One contemporary public artwork that’s seems to be an attempt to create a iconic art destination - a visible centre in a city not know for its centres - is Urban light which sits just off Wilshire Boulevard between two of LACMA’s main buildings. The work is made up of replicas of many different types of lampposts from around Los Angeles brought together in one forest of light. The bringing together of the different types of lamppost allows one to compare the varying infrastructure that exists throughout Los Angeles. Visitors are constantly frolicking in-between the posts, twirling and posing for photos. The tight cluster of detail seems to be exciting to almost all visitors, partly I think because it acts as an antidote to the rest of Los Angeles vast spacious streets.

Fiona Connor’s work Auspicious buildings for believers, a series of benches temporarily installed for a one day site specific exhibition ‘The Blackwelder Show’
achieved a similar feet of bringing together a range of objects from around Los Angeles. The site of the work was a series of warehouses in Culver City, currently underdevelopment - or more accurately under-stalled-development. Transformation of these semi industrial buildings into art galleries seems to be conditional on waiting for the economy to improve.  Fiona’s piece allowed for the perfect space to wait. The benches cover a broad aesthetic spectrum and included an assortment of bus benches, domestic benches borrowed from gardens and patios, and sleek benches of the style seen in art galleries. The work collapsed two sites of contemplation - galleries where contemplation is of artworks, and city streets where waiting for the bus can be a time to contemplate people, buildings, traffic and action.

In past works Fiona has often painstakingly made replicas of functional objects and architectural features, in this work she brought together replicas, borrowed and found objects and ‘ready made replicas’ - that is prop benches, pre-made to be used in the television and films that are constantly being shot all over the city.

Bus and park benches like street lamps vary in design depending on what municipal area you’re in. They act as one set of signs to marking out the uniqueness of neighbourhoods, asserting that Los Angles is not the unified entity depicted in so many movies. In reality this place is a fascinating hodge-podge of histories and communities with vastly different desires. The prop benches, remind me that it is the ‘singular’ Los Angles is a Hollywood invention, it is a Los Angeles constructed of Styrofoam, sprayed with a skin of concrete and sponged painted. That is the Los Angeles that is destroyed again and again on film - think Volcano, or the current 2012. It is that Hollywood Los Angels that it is easy to drive past and not engage with. What is most exciting about living here is being part of the conversations constantly happening in art spaces and living rooms that are complicating that homogenising narrative. Many critically engaged Los Angles artist seem to be attempting to work with the reality of the fabric of the city, rather than looking for a singular centred Los Angeles which doesn’t exist.

The Elision Park Museum of Modern Art, is a six month long project started by two local artists that Fiona and I are taking part in. The project began with the simple premise of getting a group of artists together to use the park as a starting point to make work. The Elision Park Museum of Modern Art, looks to the cornerstone functions of many traditional museums and applies these pursuits to a different type of space. The project will firstly document and preserve distinctive aspect of the park and secondly use the park as a public exhibition space.

Elision Park borders my neighbourhood of Echo Park, an area with a mix of Latino and hipster communities. The park gets used by a cross section of the inhabitants of Echo Park and its other surrounding neighbourhoods. On the weekend there are large groups barbequing, playing mariachi music on boom boxes, and even masses of cheering children whacking piñatas hung from trees.

The challenge of the project will I think, mirror the challenges of living and making art in Los Angeles -to respond to the specificity of the city, while navigating the deeply imbedded Hollywood narratives which, though we all know are myths, still have a real effect on the was everyone looks at, moves through, and re-imagines this city.


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