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Postcard From L.A.

Posted by Geoff Edgers  July 5, 2007 01:55 PM

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Today, we've got Jeremy Rosenberg, a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. He is the consulting Project Manager for Farmlab, and was the consulting Public Information Officer for Not A Cornfield.

Hey Boston,

It's been a while…

Exhibitionist, thanks for the cybersquat.

Can someone out there please tell me if that cheap pizzeria is still located at the Fenway end of Boylston Street? You know, that joint that used to, at least, serve single slices the size of a tennis racquet's head? And didn't they keep the condiments chained to the counter?

I'd look the place up myself on Google Earth, but I'd probably get distracted checking for crop yields in the Victory Gardens.

Or looking for otters swimming in the Muddy River.

I mean, those were otters, right? Rats can't grow that large.

Speaking of wild things, out here on the best coast, twenty months or so ago I was at cultural forum when I heard one of the Wertheim sisters – was it Margaret or Christine? – point out that Los Angeles was full of "feral institutions."

If I understood correctly, then the point of the 'feral' comment was that Los Angeles is a new city that developed culturally outside the controlling traditions and structures of the Academy; this allows for all sorts of idiosyncratic, visionary, and hybrid organizations to form and thrive. In short, not everyone is Symphony Hall.

The nomadic Institute For Figuring, co-directed by the sibling Wertheims, is one such example of untamed L.A.-based culture. The most famous local example, and justifiably so, is David and Diana Wilson's storefront Museum of Jurassic Technology, over on Venice Boulevard, in Culver City features bats that fly through walls, Athanasius Kircher hagiography, and a complimentary Russian Team Room. Just like the Met, right?

Next door to the Jurassic is the Center for Land Use Interpretation, or, as it's pronounced in the abbreviate, "clooey." The small crew who work there are like the Indiana Joneses of geography. CLUI's guidebooks make for ideal touring of desertscapes that somehow turn out to brim with mothballed and active military installations, mining operations, and centers for new age spirituality.

My friend Steve Rowell works with CLUI. He and I are both consultants for Farmlab, and previously, to the Not A Cornfield project, which this blog was kind enough to once mention.

Now, please don't just take my word for all the following, since, again, I'm on the company payroll, but Farmlab is likewise considered a feral joint. We're part art production studio, part think tank, part free-of-charge salon, music, film, and dance venue. We've built a 32-acre full-service park, salvaged trees from the doomed South Central Farm, and with roller derby players and musicians in tow, delivered planters to skid row, to name a few early projects.

Farmlab is a fully funded initiative of the Annenberg Foundation, part of the avant-garde re-imagining of project- or place-based philanthropy. (Also big out west: venture philanthropy). The Farmlab and NAC founder, creative director, visionary -- and my boss -- is Lauren Bon. She's also a trustee of the Foundation whose grants help support many of the area's feral hatchlings.

Many of my fellow Farmlab consultants are part of other local feral operations. Paolo Davanzo, Ken Fountain, and Lisa Marr – yes, that famous indie-rockin' Lisa Marr – are among the folks behind the Echo Park Film Center, a neighborhood microcinema and community-based youth-and-seniors educational facility. Rochelle Fabb, formerly of your burghMobius , just finished a Farmlab gig. She came out west to work with the Rachel Rosenthal Company. Farmlabbers Jaime Lopez Wolters and Sarah McCabe are burners , participants in that annual West Coast fleeting oasis, Black Rock City.. Irene Tsatsos ran Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Sean Dockray who helped out for a while during NAC, is with Telic. Janet Owen Driggs co-founded Raid Projects. Gerardo Vaquero Rosas was a South Central Farmer. George Herms is a feral institution all to his leonine self. Adolfo V. Nodal [again, like Bon, my boss] a city insider and President of the Cultural Affairs Commission, has multiple feral side projects, including helping create La Casa del Tunel: Art Center, a cross-border cultural institution based in Tijuana, Mexico. Nodal's wife, Tammy Singer, is part of Los Animistas, a trio of artists and scientists who work out of Cuba and show in L.A. and TJ.

Back when I used to write The Secret City column for the calendar section of latimes.com, I'd have to go seeking out these sorts of burgeoning orgs – from the eerily happy creator of the Banana Museum to the intrepid builder, and re-builder, of the Velaslavasay Panorama.

These days, I sit at Farmlab and feral folks come to us. Paid salon presenters at the spot have included many more local feral-ites – Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess from Materials & Applications; David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young from Fallen Fruit, Mark Allen from Machine Project; Fritz Haeg of GardenLab.

The Los Angeles Urban Rangers stop by, as do representatives from Outpost for Contemporary Art, Dublab, Puppets (After Dark), and FoLAR – Lewis MacAdams' projected forty-year effort to restore the concrete straight-jacketed Los Angeles River, now gaining tangible traction.

Okay, Exhibitionist. What more do you want to know? I'll start winding down now, but first, how about some local feral publications? There's Feral House, which with a name like that, might as well lead the list. L.A. might have lost Judith Regan, but we still have Taschen America. Local staffers include Jim Heinman and my pal, Nina Wiener. The company offices are on Sunset Boulevard, in the "Crossroads of the World" building, which by the w ay, looks like a boat, a la the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Central Avenue, and that old Dust Brothers recording studio on Hyperion Avenue. In the rag world, Coagula Art Journal, maverick Mat Gleason's tabloid, is officed in a former brewery. And – for consenting adults only, please – the erotic drawings of Tom of Finland are showcased, by an eponymous foundation, in a stately Craftsman house on the eastside of town.

So, in the end, what tames feral? Is it time? Money? Family obligations? Peer or political pressure?

Elsewhere, maybe. But out here, who knows? After all, we've got fires, earthquakes, and – were it to ever rain again – mudslides. We've got highly paid entertainment industry executives who spend their days debating, say, what color a CGI monster ought to be.

The Getty has a tram. Cal Tech's JPL was built from the TNT-tinkering, Alstair Crowley-loving DNA of Jack Parsons. Larry Flynt and Arriana Huffington live here – though as far as I know, not together.

In the meanwhile, somebody call the Isabella Stewart Gardner. Maybe they want a Tom of Finland traveling show?

That's all I got. Exhibitionist; come home soon.

From L.A.,
Jeremy Rosenberg


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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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