Art

Neighbors Converge and Share Their Memories Around a Public Art Project in LA

Together the neighbors have built an incomplete history of the empty lot where Tanya Brodsky installed her sculpture earlier this summer.

Tanya Brodsky, “1601 Park,” near Echo Park Lake (photo by Josh Schaedel)

LOS ANGELES — In a razed lot near Echo Park Lake stands a confounding sculpture. Made from metal and coated in pale paint, its parts are recognizable but illogical: a door leading to nowhere is wrapped with chain through a hole where a doorknob would go, and a window grate is bolted loosely to the frame so that it wiggles in the wind, guarding nothing but the sky beyond it. It’s a house without walls, a frame without the drywall, but all made with standardized and familiar pieces. This temporary sculpture, “1601 Park” by artist Tanya Brodsky, illustrates how boundaries and privacy are defined by architecture in Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Standing at nearly 12 feet tall at its highest point and stretching 18 feet across, each segment of the sculpture was first built in Brodsky’s studio, then assembled on-site. Being highly visible from the street and at a busy intersection in Echo Park, “1601 Park” piqued curiosity in neighbors and passersby. As Brodsky and her team installed, a chorus of neighbors came over to relay their version of the lot’s history. It was once home to a wood and stucco apartment complex built in 1924 which collapsed onto itself in 2000, killing one man and injuring 36 tenants. More than 50 of its residents, described by the Los Angeles Times as “mainly day laborers, garment workers and their children” were left homeless.

Tanya Brodsky, “1601 Park” (photo by Josh Schaedel)

In the History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, scholar Norman Klein describes the process of forgetting local history by way of demolition, what he calls “erasure.” What we remember being there — in an empty lot or the storefront of a whitewashed business — he labels an imago, or an idealized memory, usually inaccurate but nevertheless emotionally charged based on the way we felt when we last saw it. Klein writes, “It remains where we put it, but the details around it get lost, as if they were haunted, somewhat contaminated, but empty. Imagos are the sculpture that stands in the foreground next to negative space.”

“I realized after talking to a few people that each one was describing a different moment in the timeline, and a different angle of the view they witnessed,” said Brodsky. The personal accounts from neighbors gave context to the plot that was otherwise left unknown. For example, a couple whose window faces the lot described an enormous crane which lifted the slumped building several feet off the ground where it hung suspended in air for hours. Another described seeing the building being taken away on the flatbed of a truck. The neighbors’ collective memory built an incomplete account of the lot and Brodsky’s sculpture is a quick chapter in its history. “This space is a ghost of itself. I see this sculpture as more of a memorial,” said Brodsky. “Something that provides a physical object to help you remember something else.”

Tanya Brodsky, “1601 Park” (detail) (photo by Josh Schaedel)

“1601 Park” is part of a program series called Privacies Infrastructure organized by Materials & Applications, a cultural organization that hosts critical exhibitions around the built environment. Helmed by director Jia Gu and organized by guest curator Aurora Tang of the Center for Creative Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), each project in Privacies Infrastructure, including “1601 Park,” were developed from a seemingly simple question: “Why do our neighborhoods look the way they do?”

In the past, Brodsky used found metal to build her sculptures, mostly sourced from alleys and junk yards. In contrast, “1601 Park” was built from scratch because she was interested in how standardized architecture affects both domestic and public space. “I wanted the door and window bars to be recognizable as things that are commonly used,” said Brodsky. Similarly, a series of slatted metal sheets were cut and warped into a rounded U-shape, a reference to the horizontal fences that typify freshly renovated houses. “They’re meant to keep people out but they don’t exist so much in neighborhoods that were originally built for affluent people,” said Brodsky. “Over the years [they’ve] become shorthand for gentrification.”

A printed message left nearby the sculpture (photo by Josh Schaedel)

As neighborhoods rapidly gentrify in Los Angeles, their houses change with it. “1601 Park” is a temporary placeholder at a fixed address, a “sculpture that stands in the foreground next to negative space.”

A few weeks after the sculpture went up, someone left a printed message with a rendering of one of Brodsky’s window grates taped to a wooden power pole on the adjacent sidewalk. The print out read: “NO TRESPASSING. The Imaginary lines of security and privacy constructed to resemble others objects.” Seeing it as a conversation the project aimed to start, Brodsky taped a print of a picket fence with her response: “Objects bearing the force of suggestion. Objects that make you pick a side.”

The artist’s response (photo by Josh Schaedel)

1601 Park” by Tanya Brodsky continues at 1601 W Park Ave (northwest corner of West Park Ave / Echo Park Ave, near Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles) through September 30, Thursdays–Sundays, 10am–7pm.

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