Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asphalt Summer

This afternoon the skies finally turned dark dark grey and released buckets of water in Detroit. C. told me that last time this happened, the people in her street got out of their houses and let themselves get all soaked. Eventually they got cold until one person noticed that on the recently repaved street around the corner, the asphalt was still hot and the rainwater simply perfect. So here they were, regular adults on a regular night, lying flat on their stomachs and taking in pure pleasure.

This is the thing with cities and urban regeneration plans. Instead of importing out of context swimming pools or skate parks they should develop new sensitivities to local ecologies, re-inventing city life with as little hardware as possible, and in tune with the specificity of a site.

Thank you C for your story and embedded lesson...

Detroit-Chicago and back on the Amtrak

LA # Elysian Parks

On one of my last days Katie Bachler, map maker, gardener, educator and dancer with the collective bodycity, guided me around Elysian Park. It was my best encounter with Downtown so far: as a skyline reflecting the sunset, from faraway, filtered by the sounds of birds, shrubs and Freeway Nr 5 at the back of the park.

Click here for the Map For Another LA, by Llano Del Rio, to which Katie contributed.

LA # Looking in the rear mirror

The sound of a city.

Towards the end of my stay in Los Angeles many asked me about how I felt about the city. What had been "highlights". I could only say - I don't know yet. I had too many impressions, stretched out over too vast, loosely tied places. But when the plane finally took off and circled above the beaches and mountain ranges, scaling down all those endless stretches of concrete city life down to seemingly random patterns, the name Los Angeles all of sudden took on a particular sound and colour - made up of the persons I had met and the beautiful spots they had taken me to, filled with the feeling of driving-drifting around and never quite arriving anywhere, and fed with the over sophisticated vegan food my body had a hard time to digest. Shaped also by all the things I didn't get to do and see, and at the same time inhabited by the need to be home again, to stay put, to give my mind some rest. Los Angeles city of longing in the land of plenty. Its cemetery is called Hollywood Forever.


Another city for another life

You can ride my car baby

Nobody walks in LA

Keep the speed limit

Even in the desert

Cause the sheriff sees everything

Pilot car follow me

It's true

Isn't it just great?

Life has a mind of its own

LA woman

LA /Los Angeles - what's the difference?

You move me

Wipe me out

Terrific. Awesome. Grand.

Why do fools fall in love


Ask us anything vacancy gas aspirin

You are our best customers

I want you to want me

You only need to remember one word: radiator

Thank god for Airco

Airco ruins everything

City of needs city of wants city of must-haves

The valley is another thing

Most people go the other way but I go South

Hungry valley

Cool beer

Great beer comes with great responsibility

Ocean scenic view

How many billboards

Merging the sacred and the profane


Family Dollar - Friendly Dollar - Million Dollar - Dollar Daze

The biggest problem - having to get the story before the content

I just wanted to become a famous singer

It's all about fan culture

Beauty Supplies

Spread and enclose

She called me the wild card

The detour is part of it

This is my shortcut to everything


Unlawful to disturb

This is where I do all my thinking

Can you believe it

Go back one exit

They're true they're here they're American

The biggest insult was when they told me I had turned white

Galloping bungalows

Girls girls girls

Cleaners cleaners cleaners

Buildings as movie sets

Beautiful people


Peanuts or pretzels

When you hit the pavement hit it smart

Merge left

You just missed us

How to transform a man into a rock or similar object

If at first you don't succeed, celebrate


You can move around for days without really being there

It's about you, not about knowledge

The big project for me is the living and breathing one

There is no plan

(That would take all the fun out)

This we know

Three chords is all it takes

You'll see that you were making sense all the time but you just didn't see it

(A collection of thoughts and sayings, sampled from the street, the radio, some lyrics, exhibitions, my mind, readings and talks this July. Thank you BenoƮt, Kali, Robert, Denise, Hedi, Jonathan, Hazel, Andy, Rem, Gilbert, Rich, Daniel, Vinca, John, Constant, Sarmishta, Signer, Sudeshna, Hammer, Jurassic, Javier, Leslie, Katy, and many more for your words)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LA Daily # Blue Saturday

July 17th, Otis Workshop.
The workshop is conceived as an immersive drive-thru one cross section of LA; its aim is to train observation skills and simultaneously to postpone judgement. Not unimportantly, my agenda was also to have fun, share each other's views on things and to maintain a great group dynamics all day long. After an introductory round, we had a great 'fill up' breakfast at Pann's in 50ies style. We drove up to Mt Wilson Observatory from where we could see Western Avenue stretching out across hazy LA. Then we drove all the way from North to South Western Avenue, stopping now and then to walk. Every student had decided on a personal perspective, with which to document the street's typology, e.g. pauzes, logo's, waiting time and legends. The immersion happened for everyone, thanks to the blazing heat. H: "The heat just prevented us from taking any distance from the subject of the day [read: from that bloody street]"... An uncensured slideshow with improvised soundtrack made everyone come full circle in the evening - while the morning discussion was spent discussing motives and intentions, the afternoon's results pointed to each student's specific qualities and difficulties in such a fast, semi-improvised process, which called for inventivity, resourcefulness and alertness.
(above) The detectives at work.
(below) A funny trip, pieced together from the day's collected visuals, by Marina Murad.

LA Daily # Road trip

LA Daily # (un)civilised nature

Oil Fields north of LA, towards Sequoia Park. LA has active oil fields too, on Baldwin Hills, in the middle of town. When you drive up La Cienega the black heads seem to be gently bowing to the earth. It's a beautiful, rythmic sight. It's hard to admit that something so ugly can look so terrific. Baldwin Hills is a much disputed area, appointed to become one of LA's largest public parks, if negotiations work out– the lobby against the reclaiming of the oil fields is a hard-headed one. The Integrated Learning program of Otis, directed by Richard Shelton, will host a seminar on this explosive topic this fall. An environmental studio is currently researching "art and design interventions that rethink the relationship between public and private open space" with the aim to address "sustainability, environmental stewardship and blue-sky project development for a historically significant LA landscape". The studio is a collaboration project with Los Angeles Urban Rangers.
The Los Angeles Urban Rangers identity mimicks well-known government funded nature institutions. I met visual artist Sara Deleiden, one of the rangers in disguise, last week. Sara: "Because we look so much like them at first sight, this gives us instant credit." The Urban Rangers are steadily gaining recognition and terrain; their critical investigation of the city's "natural" qualities has made them a valuable partner in on-going discussions of urban renewal.

The Rangers' take on nature in the city is a lot more ambiguous and subversive than the national one, as their brochure reveals. Urban Rangers Tours include a toxic tour of polluted areas, a back alley tour including "grafitti, tagging, trash and wildlife", or a hunting and gathering tour of LA based on economies of barter and re-use in food cycles. Jenny Price, writer and Ranger (tours among others the LA river, check out next dates!), has posted her manifest on urban nature Here.

An afilliated activist collective is Centre of Land Use Interpretation on Venice Blvd. I will meet them this Thursday. More about their perspective then!

Venice Canals! Nearly like the real thing but just not quite right in terms of proportions...
Culver City. Reality-reality.

First thing I was told: drive up to the roofs of parking lots to have the best views of LA. Not one view has disappointed me so far. Another great habit to bring home with me.

La Daily # Gang Knowledge

My second Drive Thru Crit was with H. who brought me to her birthplace Wilmington.

"Most people go the other way but I go South when I go home." H. has a background in Fine Arts. Graphic design was far from her mind then, and neither was it recognised by her teachers as anything of value – "graphic design was the enemy". Looking back on her three years at the MFA program of Otis, H. can now say that graphic design has become a tool, a way of operating for her– it helps her to organize her ideas, and to trace their lineage. It's also made her realize how muddled her ideas were before.

H. spent most of her teenage school time in Wilmington 'roaming around' - which came down to "walking in and out of every shop, buying a hot dog, going to the beach and making sure you're home before 4 pm so it looks like you came straight from school"...

Wilmington was once one of LA's most notorious gang incubators. Growing up there as a girl meant regularly "hitting the pavement" on the way home to avoid drive-by shootings, learning how to show respect, bodily and verbally, and developing strategies to earn street credibility. "Gang knowledge is about knowing which part of town belongs to which gang."

Most of all, H. found it hard to gain access to artistic knowledge and skills. This is also the topic of H.'s graduation project, for which she is developing an educational program for teengirls growing up in similar, underprivileged conditions. "Part of what I want to do is let them know they are not limited. I want their ambitions to feed the program's curriculum."

Stuart Bailey, co-editor of Dot Dot Dot Magazine and one of her mentors at Otis neatly summarized the way limitations can work for you: "A punk rock gitar has just three chords, but from these all other things are born."

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Design critic and writer Michael Dooley has posted a Q&A
on after my lecture at Otis last Saturday.
Good questions can throw you off balance
and make you rethink your premisses.
That happened now and then during this Q&A
and that's why I like this interview.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LA # Palm Tree : Wrong, Fake

Local Wisdom # 1
" You can tell what kind of neighbourhood you're in by the way
the cellphone trees look - super plain or very sophisticated"

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1967.

LA / Drive-Thru Tree & Donut

In Sequoia Park where I will be tomorrow if all works out

In La Puente, LA.

LA Daily / One-on-one Drive -Thru Crit

As part of my (o so short) three week residency here at Otis,
I'm trying out One-on-one Drive-Thru Crits.

This is how I see it working.

Students who wish to have an in-depth, one-on-one feedback about their work,
ambitions, and methodology can contact me.
We agree a date and time.
They decide where they take me – a place in LA that matters to them and their work.
Time is no issue; for instance, if a student wants to drive for three hours that's fine.
The point is that we both engage in an adventure of which none of us know the outcome,
and that requires trust and commitment from both sides.

My first critique was yesterday night with E.
We drove all the way up to the Observatory.
One of the many insights it gave us is that a view doesn't discriminate.
It's there for all to see and have.
It doesn't need to concern itself with issues of access or navigation.
Perhaps this is why the concept of the scenic image is so powerful.
Especially in a drive-thru city like LA.

Monday, July 12, 2010

La / The Weatherhouse Project / Javier

It all started with an article in LA Times by Esmeralda Bermudez.
It was one of the first things I read upon arriving in LA last week.
It made me want to meet Javier Prado.
Yesterday I was driving Downtown and sure enough,
Javier was by his Lake Backdrop in Mac Arthur Park when I approached him.
Javier has photographed park visitors all his life but his real ambition is to become a (famous) singer.
His camera is still his first, and he taped it all over to enable among others double exposure souvenir images.
"The only reason the whole world doesn't know who I am is because they didn't let me talk or sing."=
This friday night he and his band will be rehearsing on a parking lot and I will go film them.

I want to make another few portraits during my time here at Otis:
a) Rich, who owns two and nearly three garages full of records,
and organizes bi-monthly conventions that attract the world's most obssesive collectors.
b) The men (and occasionally women) holding up signs along the road;
especially the ones that juggle them high above their heads.

The Weatherhouse Project is the working title of my research project and it refers to a (hypothetical) house on wheels that absorbs, processes and emits the atmosphere of different neighborhoods of LA. It's inspired by LA's manifold climate, from fresh and gloomy by the sea to super hot inland.

To be continued!

LA Daily # Baldwin Hills, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Mural

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

LA Daily # Absurd Tuesday

Corner bistro in Marina del Rey, where the LA river delta meets the ocean.

Chris said he'd take me to a place where
you can't SEE the OCEAN but you KNOW you're VERY CLOSE.
He was right. The ocean was the breeze, the light, the softened asfalt even.

The Wetlands, a protected area, popular with bird and bird spotters.
The towers in the morning fog are Downtown LA.
Downtown! Airborne! Awesome! Venice Beach! Brussels sprouts!
Pineapple Coriander! For your convenience!
Where does everything sound SO COOL here.

... AND LOOK so cool.
Re-read Robert Venturi's (awesome!) Learning from Las Vegas on the way here.
It all still makes so much sense:
- the ugly and the ordinary as alternative, aesthetic paradigm of design;
- an inclusive form of design, integrating the profane and the sacred;
- the building-becoming-sculpture versus the shed-decorated-as-sign;
Another proof that an in-depth, personal analysis of a place is of timeless value.

Otis College of Art and Design, my host until July 23rd.
More about my residency here in the next Daily.

(The LA Daily is released Now and Then, when content asks for it, unlike its name might suggest)