Black – Still
M&A Los Angeles
Through September 10
In 2021, Los Angeles’ M&A museum committed to five years of summer installations in its courtyard, which it shares with Craft Contemporary. The unique outdoor showcase brings art and interactive programming to L.A.’s art scene, but specifically with an architectural sensibility. The installation series focuses on spatial immersion through built activations, bridging the scale of an architectural pavilion with the freedom of sculpture and performance.
This year’s iteration takes this mission further: a multisensory installation by enFOLD Collective centers urgent topics of accessibility, wellness, and BIPOC cultural expression by prioritizing storytelling by and for non-white communities.
“The project was constructed with the intention of serving as a space of contemplation, meditation, and healing and we recognize that architecture in itself can only provide this in a limited capacity,” Dana McKinney White of enFOLD told AN. Her partner, Megan Echols, added that the design “serves as a participatory piece, in which visitors are invited to tie black fabric strips… Tying strips of fabric serves as a mediation, in which people can leave something behind; whether it be stress, a negative thought, or a past trauma, Black – Still absorbs it.”
The installation is made with simple, familiar materials: Plywood and plaster-and-lath walls are painted black, and insulated with HempWool. The mortar oozes out from between the planks, referencing the nearby La Brea Tar Pits.
“As a practice we try to push our understanding of vernacular, not just that of architecture, but of people, ecology, and terrain,” said Dana. “The courtyard’s proximity to the La Brea Tar Pits inspired us to design the installation as if it directly erupted from the tar beneath its surface.” Megan referenced how the focus on tar “felt very natural as we began to make decisions that dealt with site specificity and the color black as a motif.”
The texture adds a human feel to the outdoor room, which confounds modernist architectural ideals—predicated on presumed whiteness—to make connections between bodies, the environment, and Los Angeles at large. But more urgently, the work reminds viewers that beneath the M&A oil seeps, and, even, Blackness itself.
Serving as a meditative activation of the courtyard is only one part of enFOLD’s program, however. An entire calendar of events, workshops, and festivities are organized to unfold within the space. Called “Narratives,” they will occur throughout the summer to bring in community, culture and healing. Some upcoming events include Tea Afar on August 6, when artist April Banks invites an intimate group of visitors to share a cup of tea and engage in the practice of collective storytelling. The goal is to share stories, like a group of friends or neighbors, intentionally creating a space of leisure amid a world constantly vying for our attention and production, for documentation and recording. Space can still exist for relaxation, and critically, the inimitable art of oral history.
For the following event on August 27, enFOLD welcomes the Center for Restorative Justice Works and Jylani Ma’at to spend the day with a two-part program: first, a workshop on compassionate activism introduces participants to the work of restorative justice, non-violent and healthy communication and conflict resolution. All these skills and re-learned behaviors work toward healing, particularly in the face of pressures toward isolation, and stress the importance of community in these processes. The second portion of the day’s programming is a meditation led by Ma’at. In Ma’at’s words, “Black still*ness is an opportunity to sit in and with many B/blacknesses via an exploration of the senses.” Acting as a guide, Ma’at then leads participants through a series of exercises meant to unlock this curiosity towards sense-making, focusing on “simple” embodiment and presence and moving toward peace.
Literally taking steps outside of the white box gallery, the M&A’s programming is furthering goals shared by many toward diversity and inclusion, as well as rethinking what architecture means, and how architecture can facilitate change. At just a small courtyard in L.A., a few weekend hours in the sun promise to bring a new kind of community together.
“We want to continue developing our brand and values,” Megan said. “Dana and I love to collaborate with other organizations and designers. I also look forward to doing work with more permanence in architecture and urban planning and design.”
As to where their practice is heading, Dana and Megan stand firm in their commitment to value-based decision-making as designers: “It is our intention to facilitate engagement as part of the design process. As an emerging practice, it is critical that we procure new works, but it is equally important that the work we pursue not only upholds but propels our values.”