URBAN SCRAWL #007: It takes a village to raise the dead and bring home the gelato, baby!

URBAN SCRAWL #007: It takes a village to raise the dead and bring home the gelato, baby!


At the end of this post you’ll find some information about a project I’ve been working on in Inglewood at the newly-inaugurated Beacon Arts Building (hint: events Fri 29, Sat 30, and Sun 7 blog7_gelatoNovember). In between here and the end, I’ll talk about a couple of experiences I have and projects I’ve worked on that have required me to literally go places I’ve never been, in some cases right in the heart of my own city, including the aforementioned Inglewood, St. Elmo Village, and just about everywhere mentioned on Gelato Baby’s website. There’s a lot, so in the interest of the arts, let’s just skip straight to dessert.
Gelato Baby <http://www.gelatobaby.com/%20> is a wonderful blog operated by USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program Fellow Alissa Walker (congrats, lady!), whose official bio explains, “…has written for Fast Company, GOOD, and Dwell, and edited the design blog UnBeige. She co-created and serves as curator for GOOD Design, an event series where designers present solutions to urban problems across the country, and she is the associate producer of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture. She is author of CityWalks Architecture: New York, a walking guide organized into 25 itineraries.” Very impressive, but it oddly makes no mention of what I take to be the primary inspiration for all of Walker’s travels — the search for the perfect gelato. As if that were not its own reward, the really salient secret of GelatoBaby.com is that it privileges walking and cycling, the better to do a thorough search of a given quandrant. And in so doing, produces the intended side-effect of creating a ground-level, human-scale relationship between you and some part of a city, whether an exotic locale or your own home town, where you’d never been before.
blog7_debateAnd speaking of the beauties of the roads less traveled, or, perhaps more accurately, the roads less traveled by most of white, middle and upper-middle class Angelenos — and also of how art (and desert) can expand your cultural and personal horizons… some of you may remember the relational art and community eating project I did about a year ago, where the UN model of structured debate was recontextualized in an arts paradigm, and an experiment undertaken to see if that would work as a model for conflict resolution. It was called Debating Through the Arts <http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=309306298265> , and the idea was that if successful, it could be expanded and implemented in places like the public school system, which badly needs both conflict resolution skills and arts education. So one of the leaders, Inez Bush, asked me when I was about 3 Cosmos into it one night at the Roosevelt Hotel (I think it was Yosi Sergant’s birthday party…) what I thought about Freedom of Speech as a debate topic, and I somehow enthusiastically agreed to make the argument against.
Now, I just checked, and my ACLU card is still in my wallet, so… but I was thinking more about Benjamin Franklin and how he would famously entertain himself by winning an argument, going back to the bar, and returning with a fresh round, only to take up the topic from the opposite viewpoint — and then win that side of the argument, too. Also, I was thinking that if this were England, where they don’t have a First Amendment, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and all the Operation Rescue people would be in jail right now for dangerous hate speech. See, they can arrest fascists in the UK. Knowing that the kind of people who’d likely be in the audience for this kind of thing would probably self-identify as liberals, I knew they all thought they were pro-First Amendment. But you know, then how to account for the value of satire, and the problem of hateful, thuggish shit-heads with syndicated tv and radio shows, and also that I bet a lot of them weren’t big pornography fans… And liberals, we all mean so well, we never think through the problem of who would get to choose what constituted any of it.
So i got up and had a whiteboard, and the ladies helped by writing while I was talking. I just walked on stage and started saying words like it was Beat poetry open mike night, and at first people freaked out… and then they started participating, yelling out some good nuggets to add to the list. By the end, I had made my point and had their attention. I don’t think anyone actually voted against Free Speech in the balloting that afternoon, but I know for sure they all left thinking about it a little differently. It was pretty cool. Here’s the TRANSCRIPT: Nazi / Soup Nazi /The N word /The N word when Richard Pryor says it /Piss Christ / Death Panels / Queer Eye for the Straight Guy / Washington Lobbyists / Money / Disney / Prop 8 / Joe Wilson / Capitalism / Socialism / Communism / Nudity / Wardrobe Malfunction / Evolution / Creationism / Secret Muslim / Flag-burning / Euphemism / Equal Protection / Abortion / Fox News / Tea-bagging / Bail out / Holocaust denial / PETA / Slippery Slope / Wife-beater / Guinea T / Family Values / Yoko Ono / Lenny Bruce / Mel Brooks / Libel / Slander / Truth in Advertising / Atheism / Pray for Obama’s soul.
I know, right? That was a Year ago — and it’s gotten worse out there, not better. The good news is, the project got a grant and a residency! Debate #3 will be at 18th Street as part of a 3-month residency there, June through August 2011. In the meantime, Debate #2 took place last month, at St Elmo Village. There were very different pieces from the new participants, with some performative, political, and very engaging work being done that really proved the flexibility and saliency of the idea. In thanking everyone, Jerri Allyn, co-director of the project with Inez Bush, said: “Truly, without your participation, there is no “relational art” event. Inez and I are producing these performances, however it is the group participation that has them come to fruition. I loved that there was such a wide range of experimentation with the final Creative Proposals.” And that’s the truth. This is something worth keeping an eye on, and looking into being involved with next summer.

But also, let me back up a minute. The St. Elmo Village <http://www.stelmovillage.org/> ! Holy blog7_stelmosmother this place is amazing! Maybe it shows a hole in my knowledge, or maybe my ignorance of the existence of this amazing place is indicative of a general cultural blind spot. Based on my high opinion of my powers of perception, and also what you can deduce from the rest of this blog post, I clearly think it’s the latter. In any case, Now I’ve been turned onto this amazing gem of local history and eccentric, progressive social and cultural activism. In the heart of one of LA’s most notoriously tough neighborhoods, is a magical community occupied and operated by working artists who act as ambassadors of culture, education, and beauty. I was blown away, you should find a reason to go there if you’ve never been. Take a class maybe. Donate time or money.

blog7_hsh01And speaking of an art hall flush with history and community involvement, and now that I think about it, conflict-resolution through the arts… did you catch home sweet home <http://flavorpill.com/losangeles/events/2010/9/24/home-sweet-home> while it was up at the Skirball last month? Basically an artist-designed, participatory, interactive, collaborative installation project with a secret toy surprise of being a complex sociological experiment, home sweet home let museum-goers purchase land, and build or develop it at will, the idea being to see how community would self-organize, and what that might tell us about the real city out there where we are all doing the same thing but may be less than fully engaged in the process.
Their Flickr set <http://www.flickr.com/photos/skirballculturalcenter/sets/72157625012628692/> really tells the tale, along with some amazingly insightful anecdotes from Skirball staff speaking to the surprising, intense, funny, clever, and political moments, which they were kind enough to pass along so I could share with you what went down up on the hill. I should emphasize that these are casual observations, which I have edited for length and to help illustrate my particular point. “The project began last Friday and things are really getting interesting. Unsurprisingly, the beach and Hollywood are the most popular areas. While Watts Towers have been decorated, no one is moving into the neighborhood. Most of the structures people are building are elaborate with wonderful, creative details. Also, some restrained but tasteful California modernism. There are numerous business and civic ventures: movie theaters and a drive-in, coffee houses, organic farms, an art gallery complete with miniature paintings, a hospital, a record store, and a cemetery. High School students contributed a marijuana dispensary. Someone has built a leaking BP oil well and there is a petition to remove it, as well as petitions to restore Monday mail delivery and another over zoning issues. But the most substantial civic controversy has been inspired by a fish shop that sells whale meat. In addition to a petition to shut it down, there was a protest march against it on Sunday, from Disney Hall to the beach, and the drive-in is screening Free Willy. Just yesterday, the oil rig that was leaking created a full-on oil spill. A tanker was sent in to clean up the waters, but after it finished its task, it capsized and now there are new oil blotches polluting the bay…” Ah, people. Aren’t they just the best?

And speaking of how we define ourselves through relational geography, and the “gentrification” question being on every one’s lips — in fact, it was the other major topic of the Art Debates — and of course, with artists almost always being on the front lines, as both perpetrators and victims of gentrification… And if I remember, way back when we started with desert, we were also waxing romantic on the value of taking the time for examining, then transcending preconceptions, stereotypes, and expectations about the city you live in but maybe don’t know at all… here’s what’s happening at the Beacon Arts Building… <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inglewood-CA/Beacon-Arts-Building/129817703733091> , and what I’ve been up to for the last month since you haven’t heard from me (Sorry about that, it won’t happen again, I promise.)

blog7_beaconsNever heard of the Beacon Arts Building <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inglewood-CA/Beacon-Arts-Building/129817703733091> ? Well, that’s about to change. You might have heard about the Inglewood Open Studios annual tour, which is exactly what it sounds like, and, yes, in case you didn’t know (like I didn’t) that there is a diverse and deep population of artists working and in some case live/working in Inglewood, more than enough to justify the events (but nowhere near enough to be a nightmare a la Downtown). In fact, it’s coming right up! The Inglewood Open Studios <http://inglewoodopenstudios.blogspot.com/> is happening again on 11.13-14, for when you fall in love (or at least in curiosity) with the neighborhood and want to go back right away and see what else is going on over there. Might want to see if Gelato Baby has any tips for you before you head out…

Anyway, the same dynamic artist and impresario Renee Fox who has been organizing the IOS, came to me (at the suggestion of Peter Frank, who Renee went to first and whose project is next up) with a fascinating idea. It seemed there was this fabulous old storage building on La Brea & Centinela, and someone was turning it into a gallery and talking about artist studios being carved out, and this was all going to be happening in October and she had this great idea and let’s get together right away and talk it over. All the information is back at the building’s page, but basically her idea was to launch the space with a long-term series called “Critic as Curator” which is just how is sounds. I’m first, aka right now, aka what I’m leading up to…; then Peter is doing an amazing project keyed to the history of performance and Light & Space artists who worked in Inglewood generations ago; after that Jan Tumlir and Doug Harvey each have projects in the gallery space. We had the soft opening on the 13th and it was smashing, you are going to fall in love with this place, it’s like a dream of curatorial bohemia, and the neighborhood and property owners are 100% behind the creatives, very supportive, hands-off but also available and engaged. It’s curator heaven, and the result really show it.

So we figured our project would be around Halloween, and we wanted to be unique, and activate the blog7_ghoststoriesspace, and play on the unknown-ness of the location and its history and industrial classicism… and then I thought, well, Halloween is all about permission to transgress, and adults behaving like misbehaving children… and then I thought, well, who better than artists to look into it. I had some great visual artists in mind, but I wanted help from someone with more experience in performance art as well as dark humor and boundary-pushing, so I asked Dino Dinco to help put it together… and, man! It is gorgeous. The exhibition in the gallery is up already: Ghost Stories Art Show through Nov 7 <http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=137966676248647&index=1> . And we had a pair of events Halloween weekend: Ghost Stories Fri-Sat 10.29-30 <http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=157872250919149> . A big fat party and late-night story-telling festival Friday and a daytime pagan craft camp with an incredible Aztec dance performance.

blog7_ghoststories2Now coming up on Sunday 11.7 in the afternoon is the Post-Mortem closing party <http://flavorpill.com/losangeles/events/2010/11/7/ghost-stories-post-mortem-panel-and-closing-reception> and panel discussion, where we’ll all be talking through the experience, the premise of the show and the place, and the future curators will discuss their plans. Besides Renee and myself, Peter, Jan, and Doug, we will be joined by Ethan, and we’ll have pancakes from IHOP (I know!!) and wine from San Antonio Winery courtesy of LA CANVAS <http://lacanvas.com/> , a new Art, Food, Music, and Fashion print + web publication you will soon be hearing all about, believe me.
In the meantime, I can promise you more fireworks on the 7th than you would ever expect from a curatorial panel. And here’s why. If you read the materials back at those event pages, you’ll see the Rev. Ethan Acres <http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183073599> of the Church of the Holy Fool <http://www.churchoftheholyfool.com/> listed as our spiritual advisor, or, actually, our “spirit advisor,” and we’ve had some bumps in the road along the way. Not to be confused with the roadkill from which he fashioned the cover for the Bible sculpture in the show (thanks for the loaner, Sam Freeman!). Ethan, who is on his way back to LA after a famous extended absence, via a performance-art residency at a monastery in Toulouse, has had some trouble getting here at certain appointed hours. On the night of the opening on October 13th for example, he was supposed to be here to deliver the convocation, but he ended up sending a ceremonial mask and a recording of the site-specific sermon he had composed for us. The very capable and agile performance artist Amy Kaps took over the part, and executed it with aplomb, and it was a crowd-pleaser. And the truth is, thinking of his ministry as evolving into some kind of franchise along the lines of what we ended up doing has been on his mind for some time. So we were okay with that, but it will still make for interesting content at the talk on the 7th. But wait, there’s more….
He couldn’t be here this weekend either, and he was one of the top-billed on the event. It was a missed plane, so it was last-minute by definition. Okay, chaos seems to be the name of the game when you invite the Holy Fool into the house. Renee and I decided to go with it. But as curators (one a critic, the other an artist) how were we going to handle it, talk about it, what were we going to DO about it? We knew we could do the same thing as before, but it felt wrong. We ran through a variety of options and scenarios… so there’s that whole conversation to look forward to, plus all these new questions of how to deal with performance art archivally, and of course the promise of some life-changing new materialfrom the Rev. Like I said, fireworks. And we’ll have a brunch spread even Alissa would approve of, so needless to say, see you there.