L.A. nonprofit Materials & Applications foregrounds the objects of mutual aid initiatives

PPE on Display

L.A. nonprofit Materials & Applications foregrounds the objects of mutual aid initiatives

Why Not Things? PUUUULP on display at the Materials & Applications storefront in Los Angeles (Mateus Comparato)

Los Angeles nonprofit Materials & Applications (M&A) curates exhibitions and commissions work by architects, designers, and artists to provide a platform for experimental architecture. Its newest exhibition, Why Not Things? PUUUULP on display, foregrounds the personal protective equipment (PPE) and other basic supplies that became critical survival tools during the pandemic. The show, which occupies M&A’s storefront space on Sunset Boulevard, was designed by Jesse Hammer, the person who runs PUUUULP, a Los Angeles–based studio practice whose work explores the intersection between art history and architecture.

AN contributor Keren Dillard sat down with Hammer to discuss the exhibition and her architectural work at large.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Please, tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

Jesse Hammer: I grew up in New York, studied architecture at Savannah College of Art and Design, and then got my masters [of architecture] at UCLA, and [I] have mostly worked in experimental and corporate architecture. PUUUULP started a little over a year ago when I began to focus more deeply on my [own] work, and as with many people, COVID-19 sort of pushed that work to the forefront, and it has quickly become something bigger than I anticipated—which is great and scary and wonderful…I am kind of thankful for that.

Photo of Materials and Applications storefront
Why Not Things? PUUUULP on display at the M&A storefront space (Mateus Comparato)

What are your thoughts on the mixing of the fine art representational principles with the rigidity of architectural practices?

This is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately—how architecture seeks some flexibility in order to produce change. Certainly, from a business perspective, I am constantly trying to gage whether I am operating as an artist or an architect. I have always thought about placemaking through sensation, and texture, color, and graphics, but sensitivity above all else is a big part of that, and softness is not really on the table in the academy setting. Working from a smaller scale has offered me the flexibility to work with clients in a service-oriented way and have conversations that feel quite different than those that take place in an office setting. I think that operating at a small scale and working up materially has allowed that sensitivity to become a lens for deliberate design decisions. Breaking a thing down into its parts has given the opportunity to reorient and recast the body in space. Ultimately, I am a highly sensitive person who has a deep kinship with objects, so that pushes me through everything that I work on. Things are inevitable. We interact with them constantly and having rituals around the objects that are within our life allows for softness and stillness. 

In the M&A exhibition overview, the objects displayed are described as “talismans of refuge.” Would you elaborate a bit on that analogy?

This project is really interesting in that it is a portion of a larger, ongoing, conversation at M&A about mutual aid. The notion of “talismans of refuge” came from the idea that even at the scale of a gallon jug of water, these objects can be positioned as something of care and love instead of something that we throw away and take for granted. A talisman, for me, could be as simple as a reusable water bottle that you carry everywhere and use to refill and hydrate yourself. We used the storefront as a storage system for water and to recast a commercial storefront into an exhibition space for our heat-aid project of distributing water and PPE. These things are indicators of how special an object might be, whether you are housed or unhoused, because water is a universal need. [The show] elevates the otherwise mundane object. The storefront itself became an information system and a storage system on how to get involved in the project.

Photo of personal protective equipment and water bottles in Materials and Applications storefront
(Mateus Comparato)

What do you want the objects to say to people? Would you impose speech on them, or would you rather them take on a voice of their own?

The objects that feel the most charged for me are these soft bricks. They are foam and have a brick-colored wool exterior. They weigh less than a pound and feel like a pillow. Ultimately, they were just tacked to support some graphic text, but they definitely relate to softness and allude to historic attempts to reconfigure a system while operating in the world of architecture. The bricks are weightless, you can almost rest your head on them, but they’re there to support the text of the greater conversation of heat-aid and mutual aid within the community.

Why Not Things? PUUUULP on display
M&A Storefront
1313 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles

Through June 30