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Big City Forum: Spaces In-Between at WUHO

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In partnership with Big City Forum. Big City Forum is an interdisciplinary project that facilitates the exchange of ideas through gatherings, symposiums, exhibitions, and special events that provide access to forward-thinking creative projects.

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.

Part Three presents Spaces In-Between, a community led initiative organized by Sean Donahue principal of ResearchCentered Design and core faculty at Art Center's Media Design Program.

BCF: Spaces In-Between is a series of apparatus, temporaries, places, spaces and conversations intended to advance broader participation in community discourse. A series of community led events and apparatus will take place at the Hollywood WUHO project space meant to explore the transformative effect of conversation and participation -- Spaces In-Between is designed to support community lead dialogue by offering apparatus to advance, subvert and/or invert the complex relationships that make community and attempts to create real opportunities that allow those not typically able to participate in community conversations to contribute.

Tell me a little about the impetus for your work? How did you arrive at it? Have there been some common threads throughout?

It started by asking a very personal question that confronted the very practice I was interested in cultivating -- where and how is design able to contribute? Recognizing that much of design as I knew it was/is practiced in places and directed towards areas where designers in the past had been interested in contributing -- Or commissioned by people who were concerned with directing the abilities of design towards their interests (advertising, retail, products -- advancing consumerist/market economies, etc). Instead I was interested in thinking of what I was able to contribute, not as having to perpetuate these past practices but rather in what I could do -- construct meaning via type and image using the elements of design or informing behavior through the design of built and material environments -- then how could I ask questions and contribute in ways and in areas design historically had not. This orientation gave me permission and maybe more importantly a language and framework to explore how to differently approach the areas I was concerned with -- how to directly address the issues in under-considered, under-represented or misserved communities.

How do you feel your personal history, family, interests overlap into or inform your practice?

The answer to this starts, for me at least, by acknowledging that our experiences in life are complicated. What I mean is, the things socially we may prescribe absolutes to -- good, bad, positive, negative, helpful, not helpful -- are often as events and actions in everyday life are not that categorical, that people can believe they are good even when what they are doing is negatively impacting someone or something. On the other hand, sometimes even though something may be perceived as negative from one group, it is possible that it is serving a good purpose or intent for someone else. It's these in-between spaces that my practice aspires to intervene and explore different trajectories. This translates into approaches that are about imbedding the social and empathetic and providing people opportunities to communicate their positionalities on the issues being engaged, to unmap the assumed values in-order to allow people to self-define what the issues and the language around these areas are and embrace and communicate the tension of those complexities. This helps recognize that even though in design the word "community" is more often then not invoked to represent "good" communities, they are complex, fraught with hierarchy, posturing, and have values that can both support and undermine members, intentionally.

I also want to take a moment to recognize the importance of not thinking of community practice as always about struggle or inability. The opportunity for engaging with the most stressful of human circumstances is an important and powerful dimension to our humanity. Recognizing and celebrating the ability to create a moment where someone is able to enjoy the simple pleasures found in experiencing the senses -- color, texture, sound -- has a human value. It relates to many of my projects. I did a project with families with low and no-vision family members that explored texture, not just as a signifier, but as an opportunity to get lost in discovery and translation, and enjoy an emergent experience, collectively as a family.

Who, if anyone, has influenced the direction of your work; historically and personally? What about political or social movements?

I think influence is a fluid collection of events both positive and negative in one's life. Certainly SoCal has a rich history of community and politically engaged makers that influence my creative practice, from the work of the ASCO collective and the United Farm Workers Teatro Campesino to the Women's Building and the more recent work of The Pocho Research Society (PRS). But I'm certain at times I'm as equally influenced by seeing work that doesn't contribute in a way I'm concerned with as well.

Personally I've always been driven to explore different ways to negotiate space and conversation, and exploring questions and issues through an emergent and/or multi-positional process. That said, having an emergent outcome means that your process also has to engage multiple communities and hierarchies. This poses interesting questions and challenges for design. How do you design something that taps into an emergent self and group discovery? Design becomes a catalyst for engagement, not a solution to a problem. Ultimately you have to relinquish old notions of control and mastery in your own domain as you must allow those people that have not historically participated to lead and develop a position and a contribution of their own.

How do you see the consciousness of L.A. shifting or expanding? How is this changing at the local or community level?

The practice of negotiating the civic has been a constant in L.A. -- serving many agendas and intents both negatively and positively. The issue might rather be who is benefiting from the agenda and ultimately how it's rotating or changing in different ways by getting others together consistently to confront the issues. The scale of what is going on here is what's exciting to me. L.A. is the most diverse city of its size in the US, it's the center of immigration, its ports are the center of goods received to the country, its relationship to manufacturing in Asia and Mexico is creating new industries and practices. It's a space where confronting the issues and opportunities in the 21st century can be explored directly -- not as an abstract. That's exciting!

How do you see your work in relation or conversation with other aesthetic disciplines, visual arts, sciences, politics, activism, etc?

To have a conversation in these spaces where you want things to be sustainable and scalable, you have to work with people from other disciplines, other world views, you have to approach it differently. To that end, my practice consists of a range of engagements --professional commissions, self-directed research, publishing, and critical spaces in education. In education, I am one of 3 core faculty members launching a new graduate program at Art Center College of Design. The Field track, as we've come to call it, is in the Graduate Media Design Practices Program at Art Center. Central to the Field track is a project based field studio which, for the next two years, will be based in Kampala, Uganda. The field studio involves the faculty and students relocating and engaging these questions within a global context -- directly. Exploring what design's role is when it doesn't default to a humanitarian model of engagement. What kind of language does it need? Who does it need to work with and what are their expectations? The entire engagement is designed to develop a kind of relationship, a situation that is reciprocal and that places a critical lens on this work in a global context.

Jan. 19th - Feb. 10th, 2013

WUHO Gallery
6518 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028

The project culminates with an event:
Further Interactions:
Sunday, Feb. 10th, 2 - 5 pm

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