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Saturday, November 12, 2005

I Have Come Here To Get Lost

I attended a conference in L.A. which was mindnumbingly lame, so I ditched all of the workshops and watched television instead. There was plenty of conversation and reconnections, however, which was nice. I only left the hotel on Wednesday night when my friend Soraya, who lives in L.A., took my friend Aubryn and I around Highland Park, where she lives. She was very insistent that we see "her L.A.", that there are cool people and strong artistic communities, that that "other L.A." on television has nothing to do with the strength and beauty of the communities she grew up in and now works with. Fortunately for me, this involved a great deal of graffiti art. The reader is warned, thar be many photos underneath this lj-cut. I apologize for not resizing the images. I really need to figure out how to blog with Flickr.




Homegirl Soraya tying her shoelaces at her apartment.

Soraya's six year old daughter Sienna is like her mini-me. She talks just as fast, is just as tiny and clearly has the same impeccable fashion sense. I had trouble telling them apart. Sienna attends a charter school in Highland Park that specializes in bilingual education: she is currently being taught in Mandarin. At her school, Physical Education requirements are satisfied either with Mayan Dancing classes or with Tai Chi. Sienna takes Tai Chi and was kind enough to show Aubryn and I her moves once we had politely pretended to be looking at the floor. She stood on her tiptoes and, with her palms distended, began to slowly paint and interact with air using her body. And then I understood Tai Chi from my logical positivist perspective: it's a way of understanding gravity on its own terms. I think that she will become good at it.

Sienna's School:
First we went to a cute art store where she works called the Culture Vulture. Soraya's daughter ran up to her favorite doll, an amorphous gingerbread man with a penis protruding from him. The batteries on my camera ran out before I could take a picture. I guess it was an "art doll", but it was nice to see a mother encourage her daughter's interest in surreal dolls with large distended genitals. It was also refreshing that she actually uses the word "penis" when talking to her daughter about the doll.

On the wall inside:


We visited a community art park that is run by Soraya's organization. It was secured from the city and all of the space is run through her Arts organization in cooperation with the community. It is characterized by a six hundred foot stone "serpent", several graffiti boards and various carvings within the trees and Earth.



It had just been decorated for Dia De Los Muertos

Easily my favorite part of the trip was the "Back Alley Gallery", several walls and fences on one city block that were secured by Soraya's arts organization from the city for the purpose of public art. It was, in short, fucking amazing. I don't think I've seen any stronger presence of graffiti outside of Highland Park, and I believe that the Back Alley Gallery could not have existed without the oversaturation of graffiti artists that the neighborhood already has. Soraya told me something that makes a lot of sense: the grants to fund the "gallery" were easily secured because the existence of the space severely decreases the amount of actual property defacement in the community. This logic, of course, counters recent idiotic lawsuits such as the one surrounding Mark Ecko's Getting Up Party

The "Gallery" was also interesting because it was regulated entirely by the graffiti community in Highland Park/LA and not through the ARTs organization. The grant was secured with the help of a local graf artist who has been instrumental in the scene since the 80's, and he organized and commisioned all of the pieces. Since there is an oversaturation of graf artists in the area, only the best of the best were asked to put up pieces, and there is competition in the community to get up on the wall. While the worst that happens is "scribblers",incoherent and untalented taggers who write their names over beautiful pieces, most members of the graf community easily recognize one another's work, so "defamation" here is dealt with through bonds of trust and respect within the community, something impossible to enact when city funded cleaners randomly whitewash walls.



These two pictures represent the largest, most imposing, and easily the most intricate and skillfull piece in "gallery". While I don't have my graffiti taxonomy down yet, this style cropped up post 2003 or so and represents the intersection of "Design" and graffiti art: pick up local magazines, cd covers, and look at web design across the board, and you will see the similarities. It's an aesthetic I only picked up on in 2004 and which has quickly diffused through the design and gallery world.

That is me pointing to a mime. I am ugly.

The Gallery operates for the most part as self-propelling Art Ecology: pieces are constantly replaced with newer, sexier ones on an almost weekly basis, with the exception of a few pieces with historical value done by local legends that have been up for years. The ephemeral value of graffiti art is one of the things that draws me to it: I love that the art, no matter how stunning or impressive, falls down immediately to something grander or stranger. I love that these pictures may be the only memories of them. It is beautiful in a way that few projects outside of Graffiti Archaeology manage to understand. On the plane back to Oakland, Aubryn asked me why the presence of graffiti was so much stronger in LA than in Brooklyn, Oakland, Manhattan or San Francisco, and I'm not sure that I had an answer. My quick diagnosis however, is as follows: graffiti is romanticized as the "language of the streets", but in new york, the streets ARE the language. We aren't cut off from them in cars, we communicate inside and through them. Hence, graffiti becomes the "frosting on the streets", little bits of alien information that seep through the bedrock and sliver through our cortical nerves. It is decoration, and in SF and NY, the new wave of post-Wooster Collective, post- Shepard Fairey phenomenological "conceptual" street art has a stronger presence than traditional graf. In LA, however, there is such fierce competition between graf artists because in addition to an exercise in phenomenology and spatial restoration, it is a hyperbolic urban grammar, a way of communicating Self rather than ideas about world. It's too bad I don't have the stomach to live in LA for any length of time. I get enough traffic tickets as it is.

Aubryn and Soraya:

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