Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cybermural: The Web as the Wall NYTimes

THE neighborhood is changing,” the multimedia artist Juan Devis said as he walked through Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, “and I wanted to record that change of scene by the folks who live there.” So began his Web project “Departures.” Part digital mural, part social documentary, part travelogue, it can be seen on the Web site of the public television station KCET, where Mr. Devis is a new-media producer.

Since it went up about a year ago (, “Departures” has won international, national and local digital-media awards. It also has strong ties to art history, especially that of California. With its pumped-up colors, a focus on everyday lives made heroic and its status as an essentially public artwork, “Departures” strongly suggests a new twist on the Los Angeles muralism of the 1970s, a movement born from the Chicano civil rights movement when Mexican-American artists like Judy Baca, David Rivas Botello and Willie Herrón adapted the Mexican muralist tradition for their own time.

When Mr. Devis first arrived from Colombia in 1993, Boyle Heights was “a beehive of gang activity,” he said. But he often spent time there because it had “things that made me feel comfortable,” like the restaurants serving “the best goat in town” and Spanish spoken on the streets.

Founded as an affluent white suburb in the 1880s, Boyle Heights soon became a proverbial working-class melting pot. It was the first port of call for successive waves of newcomers to Los Angeles: African-Americans, Jewish immigrants, refugees from the Russo-Japanese War, the Mexican Revolution and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which drove many Japanese-Americans south. Since the 1970s the neighborhood has been predominantly Latino, evident in the vibrant murals that grace many of its housing projects, restaurants and stores.

By that point it was also encircled by freeways, which has kept it somewhat frozen in time. But now Boyle Heights is on the verge of change, as a new Metro line opening in 2009 will reconnect it with the rest of Los Angeles.

Mr. Devis, 36, began his journey into the neighborhood in May 2006, equipped with only a camera and what he called his rules of travel: “always travel as a tourist, even in your own city”; “get lost”; and “talk to someone you don’t know.” After about a month of getting to know the locals and taking casual scouting shots, he returned with a video camera, sound equipment and his associate producer, Bijan Rezvani, to record more formal interviews.

At first glance “Departures,” which they created with Digitaria, a San Diego-based design firm, resonates like an old-fashioned photographic panorama. Click on an image, and travel along three blocks of East First Street: the Latino gay and lesbian hangout Redz Bar and the Benjamin Franklin Library, the first branch of the city’s public library system; past Homeboy Industries, a group that helps ex-gang members build new lives; to the elegantly turreted Boyle Hotel, which began life in 1898 as a luxury hilltop inn and is now a dilapidated residence for mariachi musicians.

On closer inspection, though, this streetscape turns out to be a photomontage. It conflates both sides of the street into one and is punctuated with out-of-scale, out-of-place details: the cross that marks the First Street Pool and Billiard Parlor, the boxer wrapping his hands outside the First Street Boxing Gym, the cracked sidewalk littered with cigarette butts that looms above the locally fabled burrito joint Al & Bea’s. Near the Golden State Freeway overpass Jose Torres poses against a painted version of his store, Torres Closeouts; this is actually a detail of a painting by Diego Cardoso that hangs in a nearby cafe.

Mr. Devis represented the street in this fashion to suggest the experience of discovery. “When you’re walking down a street, you are selective,” he said. “You frame things, you zoom into something, depending on your interests.” He also took pains to present many of the sites from different angles, “to break the perspective you normally get on Google maps.” And he chose to structure it as a walking tour, he said, “to trump the idea that in L.A. you cannot walk, that in L.A. there are no communities.”

At many points the panorama deepens into three dimensions, through hot spots that lead to slide shows, audio interviews, historical photographs and literary quotations about the experience of place or travel. (A sample, from “A Walker in the City” by Alfred Kazin: “All my early life lies open to my eye within five city blocks.”) Most interviews include multiple soundtracks (about half in Spanish) and each is accompanied by a video portrait that depicts the subjects standing still as the world continues to move around them.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

It's Simply Beautiful until 22.10.07 Laboral

How do the terms 'beauty' and ?'culture' function relative to one another in various disciplines, including, art history, philosophy, cultural studies and architecture?

The expressionist model often used to frame such inquiries ? making a culture the expression of a singular community ? is increasingly inadequate given the research on the many differences within the communities and the incessant back-and-forth of borrowings among cultural groups. In light of the changes involved in trans-culturalism, we are in the midst of globalizing forces foreclosing some forms of cultural life and opening up others. What are the aims of culture in a globalised world?
The answers we give to this question will determine how we conduct ourselves as artists and citizens.