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June 14, 2005

Review of "A Walk to Remember"


Art on the Outside

Review of A Walk to Remember, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, February 9 - May 8 2005; Organized by Jens Hoffman, Director of Exhibitions, ICA, London.

The concept of "walking" in the city of Los Angeles conjures up all kinds of cliches and jokes about how "no one walks in LA," and the amorphous qualities so often ascribed to its social and natural geography. Such an impression is easily adopted, as typically one moves by car from one part of town to another, only getting out upon reaching desired destinations or to refuel at gas stations. The language used to describe LA's paved circulatory system belies the indifference to the space that lies between points A and B. On the one hand, there is the web of interconnected freeways that allow one to move from destination to destination, as if in some kind of congested time-space portal, and on the other are the "surface streets," existing at ground level, where daily life plays out.

This February, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions provided access to this surface world through a series of artist-led walks curated by Jens Hoffman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Titled "A Walk to Remember," the exhibition brings together walks by LA-based artists John Baldassari, Jennifer Bornstein, Meg Cranston, Morgan Fisher, Evan Holloway, Paul McCarthy, Rubén Ortiz Torres, Allen Ruppersberg and Eric Welsey. Participants on each of the walks will be given a disposable camera with which to document the event, with the results being displayed in LACE's exhibition space.

Of course, walking already has established historical ties to performative and conceptual art practices. Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy's formal traversals into the non-urban, the illegal border crossings of Christian Philipp Müller and Heath Bunting, and the urban derivés of the Situationists are but a few examples of the aestheticization of bipedal transportation. The LA Times recently celebrated LA's own amateur walkabout, an engineer named Neil Hopper, who documents his extensive hikes around the city on walkinginla.com.

The descriptions of the walks hosted by LACE range from a leisurely walk below the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park (Bornstein and Wesley) to a trip to Sherman Indian High School, one of three remaining off-reservation Native American boarding schools in the country (Cranston). Fisher and Ruppersberg set out to explore the intersections of personal and collective memory in the ever changing urban landscapes of Santa Monica and Hollywood, respectively. There are also "instruction" pieces, where walkers are asked to either photograph all the street signs from Baldassari's studio or perform their own walk ten consecutive times, per McCarthy¹s request.

By the time of this writing, this writer was able to attend the first two walks - Ortiz Torres' trip to El Pedorrero ("the farter"), a muffler shop and museum in East LA, and Holloway's walk from his studio near MacArthur Park. The tour of El Pedorrero, an ultra baroque environment shaped by the imagination and efforts of its owner, known as "Bill Al Capone," revealed an aesthetic vision of the "American Dream" that recombines both the utopian and vulgar aspects of modernity into one seamless architectural space. Holloway's walk from his studio to the Alvarado/7th St Metro Station, in an area known for gang activity and the infamous LAPD Rampart Division scandal, is the only walk that explicitly offers danger as bait to participants. The artist even pointed out the location where he was mugged almost three years before.

Art that involves any sort of interaction with a community, outside of its own, has been the subject of a fair amount of criticism from wildly different perspectives. "A Walk to Remember" may not situate itself as a form of "community art," but it certainly shares more than a few concerns and formal strategies. It may be worthwhile, then, to reexamine Hal Foster's critique of the ethnographic urge found in some site-specific art of the previous decade. The slippages Foster found between artists' identifications with an "outside" and the ability of institutions to assimilate those identities seem an appropriate area of inquiry for current work also dealing with an "outside." In presenting this exhibit, LACE painted one of their rooms to resemble a blank landscape - the walls split by a horizon line separating blue and green fields - which are decorated with maps of the artists' walks and photos documenting them. Perhaps, the artist-as-ethnographer is not the model found here, as any specific identities play only a secondary role. Like much current site-specific art, emphasis is placed on spatial understandings of history and urban geography - with maps being the formal device of the day. The concerns of urban planning and real estate seem to have replaced those of anthropology, as we've learned that identities are only as valuable as the land they occupy.

- Ryan Griffis [for Rhizome]

Posted by jo at June 14, 2005 08:16 AM