The latest from SEMAP (South El Monte Arts Posse) is a installation by Christopher Anthony Velasco that occupied much of a vacated car garage at the corner of Tyler Ave and Ramona in El Monte. View the images and read a statement on the piece by Carribean Fragoza below. The project is part of SEMAP’s vacant lot series called “Activate Vacant.” The group invited artists to create installations in empty/abandoned lots in El Monte and South El Monte.
“Let it Sparkle” is a public art installation by Christopher Anthony
Velasco that occupied much of a vacated car garage at the corner of
Tyler Ave and Ramona in El Monte as part of SEMAP’s Activate Vacant
series. The unoccupied building, painted over entirely in white,
including the glass windows, shines under the blazing sun like a skull
on a scorched landscape. On a Saturday morning in August, Velasco and
a crew of SEMAP posse reoccupied the dead space with an intricate web
of multi-colored yarn, neon colored tape and glitter. Lots and lots
Beautiful or obnoxious? Well, that depends.
Once a certain Italian arts magazine editor I knew snidely described
L.A. art as mostly glitter. Yes, glitter, the prepubescent girls’
medium of choice. Her derisive remark revealed her disdain for west
coast art. This was of course, well before Pacific Standard Time,
greater L.A.’s recent major comprehensive showcase of L.A. art, and
the current, Made in L.A. Not to mention a nice March 2012 issue of
Artforum dedicated almost entirely to art in L.A., featuring (best of
all) ASCO’s “Gang Victim Decoy” on the cover.
GLITTER. My god. I wondered what janky art shows this Italian editor
had been attending. I certainly did not know any artists that were
using anything as frivolous as glitter in their work…
Yet years later, I have found myself sprinkling a tube of gold glitter
across the asphalt of an abandoned car garage. Now more than then, I
see how little she understood about L.A. art, and probably less about
L.A. I also realize, as I have learned more about L.A., how little I
understood, or appreciated…. well, glitter.
For one thing: It’s not just the medium itself that matters, but also
how it’s used and how it’s applied. The glitter in Christopher
Velasco’s project was applied like a blessing to this barren ground,
like something beautiful, almost sacred, at least very special, that
was being offered to this place, scorching with asphalt and parched of
color. Afterall, SEMAP artists care about making art, and sharing
beauty and of course, about South El Monte and El Monte.
Unexpectedly, the yarn, tape and glitter highlight the lovely
particularities of the place, the way I believe a good make up job
does on a face. Not distract or detract or hide. But rather point out
the accents. For instance, a horizontal strip of red tape draws your
eye to the grainy texture of a cinderblock wall, contrasts it with the
peeling paint on a plywood boarded window.
As we strung yarn across distances, knotted and wrapped it over the
surfaces of pipes and door handles, the possibilities seem to reveal
themselves and multiply infinitely with every found piece of debris,
crack or corner. It started with the permanent stable structures,
walls, hooks, window frames, iron grates, and then extended
rhizomatically onto impermanent objects and surfaces –styrofoam cups,
strewn pipes, weeds grown out of crack, equalizing building
architecture with happenstance litter.
The nature of the project was exploratory and entirely improvised,
dependent on the whim of Velasco and each posse. The yarn was strung
from one arbitrary spot to another, cutting across the space. To call
it a web, as in a spider’s, would suggest some order.
More accurately, it was a kind of anarchic net that seemed to entrap,
or hold, or even embrace everything and anything, including the
trespassing bodies of artists. Instead of ensuring a quick getaway
should the cops start patrolling too frequently, we seemed to be
weaving ourselves into the fabric of the installation. Even the litter
on the property was lovingly embraced by the yarn.
Of course, “Let It Sparkle’s” use of yarn certainly evokes one of the
more recent street art trend known as yarn bombing or guerrilla
knitting. According to Malia Wollan’s article in the New York Times,
yarn bombing is a more “feminine” approach to graffiti by employing a
“most matronly craft”. However, despite its harmlessness, it is still
considered vandalism and littering.
So is this vandalism or art? Street art or public art?
Again the answer is not in WHAT, but in the HOW something is done. As
is, intrinsic to much installation art, where the viewing audience is
as implied as the art object, “Let it Sparkle” also happens to be
almost excruciatingly self-aware, pushing the project into the realm
of performance. And if you know the corner of Tyler and Ramona, you
know that the audience is the constant body of bus riders patiently
waiting for their forever irregular buses. On this particular day, the
audience consisted of plenty of middle aged señoras y señores, mostly
Latino and Asian. In addition to a built-in bus stop audience, there
were car passengers waiting at red lights. Many wide-eyed and
open-mouthed viewers pressing their faces against their windows to see
this odd, if not absurd performance.
Very quickly, it became clear that part of the project was the actual
movement through the space of the vacant lot and through the project
as we negotiated with our own occupation, and with the project itself.
The thing we were making was making demands of us, it required that we
use our bodies, carefully and sometimes strenuously, requiring all
sorts of body contortions over delicate yarn configurations. The
maneuvers became more complex as the web itself became more extended
It’s street art if you don’t ask for permission. It’s a public art
installation if you do. As far as I’m concerned we had the permission
of our audience who were often very curious and unhesitant to ask “que
estan haciendo?” We’re putting some color in this space. Repeatedly,
the response was “Esta muy bien.”
With that said, as SEMAP moves forward in this series of Activate
Vacant projects we have also had to wrap our minds around their
ephemeral nature. Yarn, loose glitter, tape and litter don’t hold well
under the elements or the watchful eye of city and police authorities.
Their life span potentially and likely, is brief. The performance or
the impression of the performance will probably outlast the
installation object itself, as taut yarn configurations loosen, wilt
and unravel. Or as someone impatiently machetes or bewildered,
scissor snips their way through.
Beautiful or obnoxious?
Hey, why not both. But never disrespectful or harmful. Maybe it takes
some bratty sassiness to make art that is both transgressive and
lovely. Maybe it’s not entirely about WHAT you do, but HOW you do it.