Our Year 'On the Road': Creating New Ways of Thinking and Making in L.A.

Developed as a year-long series of architecture, art, and design events intended to frame a moment in time within the contemporary context of the city of Los Angeles, On the Road, titled after its nomadic events and L.A. street named programming, is a collaboration between like-minded thinkers, makers and doers in Los Angeles: Courtney Coffman, Jonathan Louie, Danielle Rago and James Michael Tate. Born out of a shared desire to create a platform for new ways of thinking and making in Los Angeles, that engages a discipline and culture with contemporary ideas about architecture, design, and art, we formed the group in May 2013, and soon after began our journey On the Road.

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Since day one, we have put a definitive one-year time frame on the project, as our aim is to have a set number of high impact bespoke programs, rather than an indefinite number of events that eventually fizzle out over time. The year-long series can be seen as a single performance, with a series of acts artfully documented by Form Follows Function, as well as other artists who have donated their time and craft to the documentation of the otherwise fleeting events. Organizing events that vary in scope, format and scale, we are interested in exploring various formats for display and exhibition outside of a traditional white-cube gallery space, and in various sites and distinct venues throughout the city of L.A. From parking lots to highway medians, and residential streets and mailboxes, sites vary based on the intention of each program.

Temple @ Alameda

Our inaugural On the Road event took place on June 2, 2013, and was situated at the intersection of Temple and Alameda Streets in Downtown Los Angeles. The one-day exhibition took the form of five U-Haul trucks, parked in front of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. With the back doors wide open, invited participants treated the trucks as a base scaffold, installing projects in, on, and around the trucks. Instigated as a response to MOCA's contemporary architecture show, titled "A New Sculpturalism," part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative, "On the Road / Temple @ Alameda / 20130602" featured work from studio practices formed within the past five years -- practices whose work echos and extends the rich history of experimentation in Los Angeles, for artists and architects alike.

Interested in dialogues rather than conflict, On the Road attempted to bridge the lineage, from MOCA's "A New Sculpturalism Show" to a new group of emerging architects and artists, whose work is in its early stages of forming a clear position. Projects exhibited ranged from analytic explorations in architecture to more conceptual projects driven by philosophical pursuits to more temporal ephemeral pieces that existed only for the duration of the event. On the Road hopes that our programs support the development and refinement of one's position about their work.

On the Road June 2, 2013. Jimenez Lai drew on the side of one of the trucks for six hours as an endurance drawing project | Photo: Jamie Kowal

On the Road June 2, 2013. Five U-Haul trucks transformed into pop-up galleries. Program featured projects in process by architects who are working toward or who have recently started their design practice | Photo: Jamie Kowal


Thank You For Coming

While our first program was large in scope and scale, our second program quite literally borrowed our name, On the Road. We situated the project in a way that it would bookend the physical space of Thank You For Coming's restaurant in Atwater Village. We chose to have the event occur during their dinner hours, which began in the late afternoon and ended an hour or so after the sun when down. The notion of time passing, relationships between things, and physical boundary -- threshold conditions -- were primary drivers.

While the open kitchen and dining area of the restaurant is a defined space, we hoped to expand the site for one evening by incorporating the Glendale Boulevard highway median that sits within six heavy lanes of traffic, as well as the quiet, more remote exterior space in the back of the restaurant. We envisioned this site as an expanded threshold, a continuous space with different qualities and environments, as visitors moved from the front to the rear. Challenging the concept of physical boundary, our program invited three artist collectives to explore and exploit the spatial conditions within the threshold through diverse artistic mediums. They were also encouraged to respond to the interior programming at the artist-run kitchen, which at the time was Jason Metcalf's Special Meal, a project that prepared and served the last meals of death row prisoners to the restaurant patrons. Projects shifted across the three varied sites, from a highly reflective sculptural work positioned on the median, to performance pieces enacted in front of a live audience of restaurant patrons, to a zen sound and light projection occurring in the intimate space of the rear yard.

On the Road August 25, 2013. Take-Aways created for event visitors by the participants | Photo: Leon Henderson Jr.

On the Road August 25, 2013. The second On the Road Program invited a pair of sound artists, poets, and designers to create an installation around the theme of medians, containers, and islands | Photo: Erskine Bonilla


West of La Brea

Now in its third iteration, our next event will take place on Sunday, November 17, from 10-4 p.m., as a decentralized drawing exhibition at various residential sites on the Westside of Los Angeles. We chose the area West of La Brea because of the way it captures the essence of how the single-family residential unit has been so impactful and fruitful to producing the identity of Los Angeles, as well as its architecture. Participants are asked to directly engage with and respond to a residential house -- either iconic, or part of the vernacular landscape of Los Angeles -- through the medium of drawing on a standard 4x6-inch postcard, to be reproduced 150 times, and placed in the mailbox on the morning of November 17. While this container was once an essential component of the house, digital forms of communication have all but rendered the letterbox obsolete. Emphasizing a distribution system outside of the institution, as much as our program exists outside of an institution itself, On the Road participants will engage this traditional format of communication. A map posted online (seen below) for visitors to navigate the various sites will allow the public to move at will, between some or all of the sites, pulling postcards from the various mailboxes, and curating their own collection -- simultaneously engaging both the physical and representational object of the house.

Engaging with architecture, as much as with each other and the City of Los Angeles, are the motives and intellectual rigor behind our year-long program. On the Road has been and is very much a movement in direction, with a conversive group of colleagues; acknowledging that there are shared interests and overlaps, but also distinct personalities and pursuits. We see the program as a vehicle for advancing the positions of young architects, artists, and designers, and at times blurring their distinctions and encouraging them to carpool.

On the Road: West of La Brea will take place on Sunday, November 17, from 10-4 p.m. at various locations. More details can be found here.

On the Road Project: Danielle Rago, Courtney Coffman, Jonathan Louie, and James Michael Tate.

Top: On the Road June 2, 2013. Each exhibitor staged their work within or in relation to the trucks. Some works were displayed while others were participatory or interactive real time installations. Photos: Jamie Kowal

About the Author

Born out of a shared desire to create a platform for new ways of thinking and making in Los Angeles, the group was formed May 2013, and soon after began they're journey On the Road.
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