In Los Angeles, tribalism among artists and designers and architects and writers is the norm; the standard method of practice is to gather those of like mind and influence and wall off and even censor those of unlike mind and lesser influence. At stake is who gets what seat at what party and who gets invited to lecture or participate in an exhibit or conference or workshop, whose project is selected for this that and the other competition or prize. The tribal leaders collect followers and when they meet up the pow wow has the result and, indeed, intent of carving out a space that is incontestable by all those that stand outside, many of whom are waiting their turn to get in. Frustrated long enough and often growing old and with little prospect in site, this impoverished lot give up and start their own tribe, and hence, in sum, the city is at tribal war and the space for reasonable discussion in good faith on neutral turf is all but lost. So, what happens when the members of these tribes, including myself, a novelist, are quickly convened for a pow wow (the invitations were sent out less than a month ago) on utterly foreign turf, in fact, all the way across the globe for three days, to discuss Los Angeles? Orhan Ayyuce, who orchestrated this wild experiment under the generous auspices of Ole Bouman and the Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, seated in an old and monumentally large glass factory, left for ruin, that has been recently converted into a fantastic and even fantastical space for creative production, could not have possibly known what to expect, nor could anyone. He seemed to have only two criteria in mind: invite people with diverse interest and subvert the tribal allegiances, bordering on incestuousness, that currently plague the city’s architectural and artistic culture. I’ve experienced a rare spirit of “good faith”, playfulness, and camaraderie and even a strange sense of liberty that “exile”, however temporary and artificial, often has on the human soul. Los Angeles has suddenly grown in dimension, as each of the participants has brought their particular story to tell and perspective and methodology to bear upon the question: “what is Los Angeles, to itself, and to the world at large.” In a way, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me. In my newest novella, almost finished, titled Waiting for Lipschitz at the Chateau Marmont, a screen writer who has gone from riches to rags decides to move to Fresno, the so-called armpit of California, to restart his life, to let all the “go nowhere ego go.” My interest in writing the book was to interrogate the greed and ambition and agitation and brutality of Los Angeles, where, especially during the last downturn in the economy, it seems to me the city’s neurosis has turned a corner into what I can only describe as “functional psychosis.” Whether what we’ve discovered here will be at all valuable to the city, aspects of which all of the participants both wholeheartedly embrace and want to lay to waste, is uncertain, but what is indisputable for me is that this time in Shenzhen has proved a beautiful respite and interlude. I wish you were here to enjoy it with us.
The Los Angeles Biennale is an experimentation in creating a nomadic biennale on urbanism, hosted by the International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam. This blog will cover the preparation, activities and findings from this experiment.