All Together Now

In the latest entry of his column, City / Culture, Jeremy Rosenberg looks at several arts groups in L.A. that are joining together for projects like eatLACMA. Collaborations born of spare time and sparer budgets, he writes, appear to be maturing and institutionalizing into creative common cause.

Collaborators from the National Bitter Melon Council and (center) Materials & Applications install at the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Fallen Fruit

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On a recent Saturday night, at a windowless Oaxacan restaurant that used to be a Chinese joint, located in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, a couple of tables were set together so that nineteen people could eat, drink, and listen to a seven-year-old girl belt out some serious jams while backed by a drummer and xylophone player.

Most of the nineteen diners were celebrating a vigorous day spent working outdoors on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Art Museum. The group had been building an elaborate trestle, a criss-crossed bramble of blow torch-bent bamboo, which in addition to being a work of art in its own right, will also shelter a garden featuring a particular kind of long green vegetable.

When dinner ended, in time for the assembled to get a good night’s rest so they could rally the next morning for day two of trestle-making, one of the evening’s hosts, Jeremy Liu, thanked those gathered for all their hard work. “See you tomorrow,” Liu said, simply.

Liu and Hiroko Kikuchi are the duo behind the Oakland, Calif.-based, National Bitter Melon Council. (Disclosure: Liu is an old City / Culture friend.) NBMC is, according to its website, “Devoted to the cultivation of a vibrant, diverse community through the promotion and distribution of bitter melon.” NBMC is also one of half a dozen or so collectives or artist teams invited early on by Fallen Fruit, to participate in FF’s eatLACMA, which according to the museum’s website, is a “year-long investigation into food, art, culture and politics.” Fallen Fruit, for the uninitiated, is a Los Angeles-based collaboration between David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young. “Using fruit as our lens,” the FF website reads, “Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood, and new forms of located citizenship and community.”

Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess, likewise eatLACMA participants, were at the Saturday night feast, too, along with six interns and staffers. Through their research center, Materials & Applications, Didier, Hess, and company work with architects and others year-round at their Silver Lake, Los Angeles base, with the resulting experimental structures and displays tending towards otherworldly sophistication. M&A is considered such a community treasure that their courtyard installations are more like barn raisings, with volunteers crowding the space and helping hammer, thread, land and mindscape. Just like the eatLACMA scene.

So what? So you want to turn a bunch of rod-straight bamboo into gymnastic architecture, and do it in public view during one spring weekend? Then, like the proverb the Secretary of State cited in a 1990s book title, “It takes a village.”

A City / Culture acquaintance likes to point out how many conversations these past few years have begun with the phrase, “In these economic times….” “I.T.E.” is his abbreviate. Maybe he’ll be able to retire that phrase soon, as various economic indicators trend upward. Either way, collaborations sometimes born of spare time and sparer budgets appear to be maturing and institutionalizing into creative common cause.

Bettina Korek is another leader of the L.A. art scene. City / Culture thinks of the For Your Art founder as a sort of shadow director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Or better still, Minster of Culture. A few days prior from al the weekend work at LACMA, Korek sat for an ostensibly unrelated City / Culture interview. (More from her and others in this column coming soon.) “I’ve always been interested in collaborations,” Korek said. She’s working, for example, with artist Edgar Arceneaux on the Watts House Project – another L.A.-area example of a Stone Soup-style happening, or Joseph Beuys-style social sculpture. Korek’s also a point person on the forthcoming Pacific Standard Time, where some 40 Los Angeles cultural institutions plan to participate in a mass local survey of post-World War II art. (A test run of sorts is taking place now in L.A., centered on the L.A. Opera performance of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung.)

When asked, Korek suggested that a municipality’s role in the arts might be best served by facilitating. “Take a tactic of being a convener and a galvanizer, versus a producer and a funder,” Korek said. “Bring people together and encourage them to play.”

At LACMA, Liu, Kikuchi, their friends from organization, Public Matters, the large M&A contingent, and the Fallen Fruit trio were doing exactly that.

And the only thing bitter were the melon seeds.

Read City / Culture archives here.

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