It's a universally acknowledged fact that parking sucks, and Los Angeles is one of the worst cities in the U.S. to park in -- too few spaces, lots of bad drivers and let's not even talk about parallel parking.
But last Thursday, Warren Neidich and Elena Bajo kicked off a year-long endeavor to reimagine the parking space as an arena for art and innovation. Neidich and Bajo are conceptual installation and performance artists ("It's hard to define what we do," says Bajo) who split their time between Berlin -- a mecca for bicyclists and large public transportation hub -- and Los Angeles.
Their collaborative project, called "Art in the Parking Space," is affiliated with LAXART and will continue sporadically over the course of next year. It will revolve around ephemeral, pop-up installations and events organized by a series of artists -- both local and international -- in different parking lots around L.A.
Neidich and Bajo's current collaboration began partially as a response to L.A.'s car culture, but quickly evolved into a much more elaborate concept -- an exploration of our interactions with space more generally. Neidich explains, "First of all, the title, 'Art in the Parking Space,' is a kind of comment on art in the public space. It takes on that. It's a little joke."
Neidich and Bajo are trying to reimagine these environmental interactions in more positive, creative ways. In a way, parking lots provide perfect contemporary canvases for them. A parking lot is essentially made by its markings, which are identical elements that repeat continuously. If I learned anything from my college art history class, it's that, according to this definition, parking spaces are an urban version of early abstract expressionism. Neidich adds, "What's interesting about parking lots is, if you look at the lightning field, or minimalist landscapes, wherever you have continuous repetitive markings you really go back here."
Playful disruption plays a big part in their plans. On Thursday's opening event, L.A. choreographer Anita Pace turned parking spaces into dance floors. Pace took over two spaces in the back of the LAXART parking lot, on which she stenciled the words "Dance Here" and "Here Dance." Then, she cranked up a boombox and invited people to dance in the space, doing some freestyle breakdancing to kick things off.
Afterwards, Neidich and Bajo wanted to keep the stencils. "We gave them back to the artist, of course, but we said, joking, 'We should keep the stencils and put them all over L.A.,'" Neidich says. "A couple goes to Whole Foods, and it's very serious, and they're going shopping, and all of a sudden they come back to the parking space and it says, "Dance Here." How great is that?" Bajo slyly adds, "It's great because it takes over the parking space and people cannot park. Because then, people are dancing instead."
British conceptual artist Jonathan Monk flew over to contribute as well -- his piece invited spectators to literally reinterpret the meaning of the parking space. He recreated a parking lot sign, emblazoned with the phrase, "This Space is Reserved For Your Wording," and invited people to make their own, open-ended statements about what the space represented for them. Neidich comments, "From the political point of view, the project has a lot to do with the loss of the public space and what that means. It's about the reclaiming of the common." Though Monk's minimal sign seems absurd at first glance, it attempts a noble mission -- reclaiming public space for people, rather than planners and corporations.
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Parking spaces are also reminders of a lost utopia. Belgian artist Pierre Bismuth created Flashback, a work in which he rented a car, parked it in front of LAXART, and blared a looped recording of the 2008 presidential election results. Obama's name boomed through the air. Bismuth's intention: to remind us of the excitement of that day, and "the emptiness of unfulfilled dreams." You could say the same thing about parking lots -- once symbols of freedom in the 1950s linked to the individuality of driving your own car, they're now part of a nightmarish traffic system. "It's like a parking lot on the highway," Neidich wryly observes.
In the next couple months, Bajo and Neidich are planning another project that will transform the parking space -- this time into a site for erased memories. Nicoline Van Harskamp, an artist from Amsterdam, is working with the team to open an exhibit in a parking lot in Chinatown, in which you can trace the history of anarchists who lived there in 1907. Bajo explains, "All the houses in which the anarchists used to live aren't there anymore." They've been replaced by parking lots instead. In response, Van Harskamp will reenact events from anarchist demonstrations to give life to the lost historical context.
If you think that parking spaces are bland and characterless, Neidich and Bajo just might change your mind. Take any old parking space. How do you feel about it? For Bajo, it's an open space for discussion. For Neidich, it's a blank canvas. One thing is certain -- they're going to fill spaces with bold and strange things over the next year. Keep an eye out, and make sure to park around the block.