For this year’s Current:LA Food, an art triennial funded by the City of Los Angeles‘s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the London-based architecture firm Cooking Sections developed Mussel Beach, an audio tour sited near the world-famous Muscle Beach on the Venice Boardwalk, that sought to raise awareness of the loss of local biodiversity. Once participants reached the northwest corner of Venice Beach, they were invited to begin the 24-minute audio tour on their cell phones. The audio begins like a meditation app, with a calming voice asking participants to become aware of the muscles in their own bodies before quickly changing direction: “‘I didn’t know these mussels existed,’ we say when we recognize the disappearance of the California mussel, a threatened bivalve living in Pacific waters.”
The narrator then invited the listener to question how “oiled muscles overtook salt-watered mussels; how shaping biceps, butts, pecs, traps, and triceps is deeply entwined with mussels, barnacles, oysters, and clams.” The tour provides a general overview of the site beginning 7,000 years ago, well before it became the home of Muscle Beach, when the location was a swamp teeming with shellfish that nourished the native Kizh Nation until both numbers plunged due to the ravages of European colonialism. What followed over the coming millennia was the gradual destruction of the land for natural resources in the pursuit of urban and cultural expansion, leading up to the creation of Muscle Beach in 1959. “As oil wells ran dry,” the narration explained, “gallons of suntan oil began to flow instead.”
Over the remainder of the audio tour, the narrator drew parallels between the states of the natural and built environments, demonstrating that the waves of local urban development in the area are “demolishing more than just human communities; they are also demolishing the community of California mussels.” Rather than focus on the destruction of the natural environment, the tour reminded its listener that the general population is often more preoccupied with the perfection of the self. Ultimately, Mussel Beach was designed to not calm the listener, but rather to open their eyes to what’s remaining of the natural environment around them and to imagine the future of Venice Beach with a greater level of environmental sensitivity. The project was developed by conducting interviews with local experts and builds on the firm’s earlier research-based work exploring how climate change affects daily life.