Food trucks and blogs have changed the food and media industries by removing much of the infrastructure needed to get an endeavor off the ground, and the same thing has been happening in art and architecture. Pop-up exhibitions have begun to emerge as a viable alternative to museums and galleries. A recent example is On The Road, a collection of in-process experiments from more than 15 emerging Los Angeles artists and architecture studios. The show was presented inside several U-Haul trucks in the parking lot of the MOCA Contemporary on June 2.
The location next to MOCA was a direct response to the museum’s A New Sculpturalism exhibition, which attempts to document the last 25 years of the city’s architecture. The goal of On The Road, said curator (and former AN editorial assistant) Danielle Rago, is to set the stage for the next 25 years. Of course, no exhibition can come close to distilling the direction of an entire generation, but this show does give us some insights into what’s coming. From this very small sampling we get a sense of a group of architects who are reassessing the profession. They’re interested in further engaging the public sphere, in merging architecture with art, and in questioning the formal norms that have come to define what they do, especially with the ascent of digital technology.
In terms of the public/private sphere, the very first truck contained Studio Bonner and Stayner Architects’ Made In Opa-Locka, a project to turn private lots in Opa-Locka, Florida, into public spaces. The layout is fairly abstract; shiny gold circles inset with horizontal structures (those would be houses) glommed onto a sea of blue; but its graphic form is arresting and the idea—turning a mass of private lots into public spaces—is an important one that has resonance in an urban realm with so little public space. Just across the truck, Curt Gambetta has proposed turning waste infrastructure—trucks, plants, etc.—into public tools. While these plans aren’t really that doable, the hand drawings (a welcome escape from digital images, which make up most of this exhibition) are fantastic, and the idea is thought provoking: Why not use all this public infrastructure a little differently?
A couple of trucks down, architect Maxi Spina shared his entry in a recent competition to design Taiwan’s Keelung Harbor. Again, this idea might not have been a practical cinch, but formally it’s a unique experiment in which the forms of the buildings are imprecisely mirrored in a process called twinning. Through this technique, Spina has produced a pattern of strange symmetry inlaid with a moiré pattern. The section and plan of the building merge into what, at least on paper, is a gorgeous artwork. The images look perfect at first, but it’s their imperfections that make them much more compelling than most digital work.
Sam Lubell / AN
Indeed, since digital design is becoming so familiar, several of the instigators here, as they like to call themselves, have delved into old school explorations of form and spatial manipulation. Jonathan Louie employed semi-transparent forms on translucent film over three-dimensional frames to blur the line between mass and 3D geometry. James Michael Tate mashed together plans from famous buildings around the world and rendered them all but imperceptible. Yet their abstracted combinations make for a new and sometimes powerful art form. Nothing is sacred, Tate seems to be suggesting. Bryony Roberts translated a three dimensional model into two dimensions, inlaying it with spatial and even color incompatibilities that force your brain to try, unsuccessfully, to figure out what’s going on. She even invited participants to try to rebuild the model again out of cardboard, completing the unusual loop. Jimenez Lai drew unpacked geometries onto the 2D surfaces of the U-Hauls, in a six-hour “Endurance Drawing Project.” Andrew Kovacs mashed together world monuments into bizarre formations that conjured up the end of the world, or a bowl architectural oatmeal.
Of course, not all of the art and architecture in the show was groundbreaking. A few projects had the feeling of unresolved student works. Other pieces leaned to heavily toward the realm of art and not heavily enough on rethinking the architectural discourse. But overall both the ideas and the execution were of quite high quality. While I hope this generation will figure out how to further their explorations into the built realm, for now they’ve deftly integrated ideas from many professions and reframed the expectations that past generations have hefted on them. In so doing, they’ve helped rethink a profession, and an urban ethos, that often becomes calcified by its infrastructure and its thinking.