Big City Forum: The Hub at WUHO Gallery is designed as a lab for ideas that encourages cross-disciplinary explorations and exchanges between various creative disciplines. BCF: The Hub presents three separate collaborative presentations focusing on ideas and social narratives around the concept of space and envisioning our relationship to change both at an intimate, personal level and at the urban scale.
California is a land of plenty. Fall is a time of harvest and change. Los Angeles in November has another kind of sparkle, a silvery light. November Almanac is an installation, a book in space, that looks at harvest and clearing, and planting again, roots and vines, connection and longing, washing the spirit and greater understanding of where and how we are fed by L.A., the city where our food so mysteriously grows.
Part Two presents the work of three graphic designers: Jessica Fleischmann, Juliette Bellocq, and River Jukes-Hudson, with a project, "November Almanac: A Book in Space", that riffs on the City of Los Angeles.
The following is an interview with two of the participating designers in November Almanac, Jessica Fleischmann and Juliette Bellocq.
How did you first arrive at your current work; how did you decide to collaborate together?
JB: Jessica and I went to school (CalArts) at the same time and we've know each other for 14 years. In many ways we've been collaborating without a shared project: there's a lot of thinking we've had in common, for a long time.
JF: Also I think we see the world the same way a lot. We are very moved by the things we value, our sense of aesthetics, the little tiny details we love, or the little objects, or the history.
Also River [who couldn't be here for the interview] is of a similar ilk, I knew it from the minute we met (through her brother, who is a friend of mine) and since she's been working with me at still room.
JB: I've been admiring Jessica's work from minute one. The things that I've learned from her were much more than about design. She knew how to eat well, how to stop and take a break for yoga, she knew about having a lamp that would be very special on her work table. Amazing skills. Today, we are finally working together and, not so surprisingly, this project became a lot about working methods and personal aesthetics.
JF: Even though I show up late all the time? When we were in the grad studios everyone pulled all-nighters all the time so it seemed important to bring a level of aesthetics and joy to that environment by having a more pleasing lighting environment.
JB:When thinking about what we have in common, I would say we're both interested in finding opportunities in the work for something personal. Making the relationship between the professional and the personal seems to be something we share very much.
JF: We talked about doing something very human. It wouldn't just be about work we make but about the world we want to live in or the world that we see. It's really about how we embrace and live those values.
How do you feel all these experiences add to a thread of life that carries through in your work?
JB: There's two ways to get at this whole design business; either you separate it as much as possible from your private life and you make your private life as protected and fulfilling as possible, or you try to really close the distance between the two and hope they'll really complement each other. Frankly, the latter does not come naturally to me, but I'm really trying hard to make my work more meaningful and never feel in a hurry to catch my "real life." I collaborate with architects who, among many other things, design a lot of schools and I get to be involved. As a parent, that work feels very personal. Also coming from parenting concerns, is the work we do with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. And, of course, collaborating with close friends sets very high expectations and is the quickest way to blur the boundaries between personal and professional!
JF: I wouldn't say my work is my life but I think my work is an extension of my life. I've always been into food, worked as an asst. chef, have dreamt of opening a restaurant, and have done a couple of restaurant identities. The thing I like about that is the generosity of that, you know feeding somebody, serving somebody, giving them a gift.
Who, if anyone, has influenced the direction of your work; historically and personally?
JF: My first job out of school was with Lorraine Wild and that's been a big influence and I think the idea of getting out of the way of the work, of the work you are representing, has always been a big thing that she taught me, and something like this collaboration is a bit different but it's still about getting out of the way and making sure what you are saying is clean and direct and allowing the materials and the content to be also about this kind of project. A big influence has also been my sister who is a writer but she's also a collector of many things and makes compositions and she's probably a better artist than I am technically. I look at everything and nothing as far as design goes. I look more at art and the world around me and people than I look at graphic design. Historically MFK Fisher for chronicling the world she lived and her matter of fact bravery; Ray Eames and Gabriel Orozco for their collections, hers pure, his altered or constructed; Felix Gonzales Torres for his looking and generosity; Faye Toogood for her wonky grace and impossibility; and Morag Myersgough for her absurd boldness. If Robert Brownjohn were to fit in there, I suppose it would be for his object-based wit. It's all about looking differently and the way the world could be.
JB: Coming from France, I carry with me the work of Pierre Bernard. A true activist, he is also an amazing image-maker. I remember seeing his marks all over Paris. The work for the Pompidou Center and the political posters definitely had a huge influence on me. No distance between work and personal convictions there! Later, I completely fell in love with the work of Corita Kent. Daily I've been looking at her work, completely influenced by the pieces that came out of her hands but also the way she was looking and teaching. Then there's this other group of people around us who are so inspiring. I'm thinking in particularly of Lauren Mackler. Her work is not only about curating, designing, writing, but truly combining all these and she's a phenomenal example to me. I am also in awe of the work of Jaime Rugh who will make art out of a daily practice such as walking, gathering flowers or preparing dinner for her children. Pae White is also someone I greatly admire. Her sense of wonder, the strength of her curiosity, her craft, her way of looking will never cease to amaze me. And Jan Steward's work is always on my desk and I am hoping it will permeate anything I do.
What's the take away for the work? How does the work contribute to the current moment?
JF: One thing that I would want to leave behind is to provoke people to look at things more, open their eyes and look at the beauty around them. I know that might sound a little trite but it's that thing about the everyday--forget peak performance, forget peak experiences (this event or that event) but let's be here now. I want to work for people and clients that are opening up the conversation around a strong cultural thread. I'm not interested in preaching to the choir. I'm not necessarily a designer's designer. I hope I'm a designer for a broader audience.
JB: The work I'm doing right now is giving me an education. For instance with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council I mentioned earlier, I'm learning so much about the value of our food and that has enormous repercussions on how we eat at home and how we talk about food to our children. When Jessica, River and I decided to create this almanac of some sort, gathering all the information became a moment where I could really reflect on the environment I chose for our family and I really learned a lot. It's very rewarding to learn as you design.
JF: I've recently moved into a studio with an architect and a landscape architect and we all have our separate practices but we are working towards this thing called Group Effort. The idea of working/collaborating with other kinds of designers, making spaces, or making objects that are generous for people or also question the way things are.
How do you see your work in relation or conversation with other aesthetic disciplines, visual arts, sciences, politics, activism, etc?
JF: I would love to work with scientists! I would love to work on some crazy science project partly because in some ways it's so similar. You know they are looking at the micro level and we are looking at the macro level, figuring out how the world works. Juliette and I both collaborate with artists, not just designing an artists' book or catalogue, but on the other level there's helping an artist make a project which is generally with typography and collaborating on the actual pieces.
JB: In relation to politics, the fact that Prop 37 did not pass here in California is triggering a reaction and I feel that design has a huge role to play in clarifying issues for everyone. Our friend and designer Louise Sandhaus is close to Paula Daniels, an amazing lady advocating for great food improvements in California. They had a discussion about the power of design and now Paula is systematically making room for design discussions and provoking designers to responds to the complex issues she is dealing with. We're in a special place here! There's a plethora of strong women that came before us and we stand on their shoulders but I'm also very impressed by our students. I was teaching at Otis College of Art and Design a class on typography and food issues. One of my students mapped the relationships between Monsanto and the government. Even though I initiated the project, I learned so much! When you are interested in something, you offer it to someone else. Something comes back to you that you were a bit unprepared for and you want to offer something even better in return.
JF: Yeah, it's really not just about putting a surface on things or making things look good, it's about integrating with the issues and being open.
Where do you see LA going or shifting?
JB :I'm really optimistic about LA. I decided to leave my country (France) and stay in this land for a little while. I didn't have roots here for the longest time and I have to say the people you meet here are so creative and engaged, there's nowhere else I would want to be right now.
JF: With the passing of this cottage food act and the chance of people selling food they've grown in their own homes, that's a huge shift and a huge transformation in the way people share their knowledge and traditions and share the way they make this particular thing. There's no way of saying how this will change the community landscape and people's interactions but I think it'll change the way we engage with food around each other. It almost feels like the communal restaurant Food by Gordon Matta Clark in the early '70's. I'm hoping that it'll be something like that. Whoever wants to drop in for a communal meal can, and just for that realization and acknowledging how much we rely on each other.
November Almanac: A Book in Space
November 8 through December 1
6518 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Gallery hours: Thursday 1-8 p.m., Friday-Sunday 1-6 p.m.
Top Photo: November Almanac: A Book in Space.
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