While the Hammer Museum debuted the Venice Beach Biennial as part of the museum's “Made in L.A.” exhibit this past weekend, Chicago-based Franki Elliot jostled for a spot on the Venice Boardwalk in order to collect material for her own project, Typewriter Stories.
Saturday afternoon, the 20-something writer searched for a place to set up camp among a group of territorial local vendors and award-winning L.A. artists. She finally settled into a space near Muscle Beach, where she sat cross-legged on the ground with her vintage portable typewriter, nestled between a man who made cardboard signs and a henna-tattoo artist.
Less than a year after indie publisher Curbside Splendor printed her first book, Piano Rats, Elliot is spending the summer in Los Angeles to compose free-form verse on her 1960s Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe. Saturday was the first time she brought her “live typewriting” to a city outside Chicago. Along with a crowd of tourists, artists and other writers, Elliot attracted kids who'd never seen this odd-looking analog writing machine. Dozens of strangers each gave Elliot a different topic to write about, and she'd type up free stories on the spot — with no auto-correct, spell-check or even Liquid Paper in sight.
Next, Elliot's planning to head to New York City to gather more Typewriter Stories for an upcoming collection. In the meantime, her creative writing experiment is proving to be a unique blend of performance art, public art, literature and text-based multimedia — albeit with low overhead, bringing in tips instead of grants. But really, aren't they kind of the same thing? Here are 11 of Franki Elliot's typewriter stories from the Venice Boardwalk, followed by each person's requested topic and then commentary by Elliot.
11. Physical wound
“This is the first story I wrote when I arrived at Venice Beach's infamous boardwalk. Erwin, 52, is a regular at Venice Beach. He walked past me several times but kept refusing to let me type him a story. He finally gave in and asked for the topic 'physical wound.' He told me he is an electronic musician and we should write two songs together sometime.” –Franki Elliot
“Teresa is 35, from Salt Lake City, and has light-pink hair. She's an artist and photographer and she was mildly annoyed that it was cloudy that day, hence the topic. The sun came out for the first time Saturday as I was typing this up for her.”
“Scott is around 50 and has been on Venice Beach for quite a while. He set up shop next to me, selling cardboard signs he made from picking through the trash. He kept telling me there was no way I could write his story and insisted his eyes were bluer than mine. I wrote one for him anyway and when I gave it to him, he said, 'This is really something. Wow, this is something.' Scott soon began grabbing people from the boardwalk, insisting they get a story from me, while reading his own story out loud to anyone who would listen. He only had two teeth and he was my favorite person on Venice Beach.”
8. Freedom/into the wild
“Pablo is 17 and his friend Marina is 14. They are from Huelva, Spain, and were visiting L.A. for the first time. There was a major communication block at first when I tried to explain to them that I was writing stories on the spot. Pablo was very serious when he asked me to write about freedom, insisting that nobody in society is really free. Marina shyly asked me to sign my book, Piano Rats, in broken English, and said it was her new favorite thing.”
“Chris is 21 and obsessed with astronomy. He loves the idea of infinite possibility. An hour after he received his story, he brought back two of his friends and they requested stories themselves.”
“Karla is 19 and was brought to my booth by Chris. She is 19, on vacation from Phoenix, and loves hedgehogs.”
5. Intentional love
“A surprising number of people requested the topic love. I told most of them no, but for Delian, a 40-something-year-old therapist, I made an exception. She had a long dress and a glamorous, wide-brimmed hat. When I asked her what she thought it meant, Delian explained, 'Intentional love is about building a foundation of friendship and seeing a person for who they are and embracing them for it.'”
4. Bastille Day
“Dave is 29, a writer, and came to Venice Beach specifically to receive a typewriter story and meet [me]. Saturday was Bastille Day, so he rose to the occasion and explained in great detail about what the holiday meant: 'Something about kings and queens getting their heads cut off.'”
3. Documentary X
“Kevin is in his 20s and didn't say much, other than the words 'Documentary X.' He showed up with his camera, snapped a bunch of shots and refused to give any information about his elusive project.”
“The lines 'can't keep a fucking secret' come from page one of Piano Rats. Kevin, 31, works up the street at a creative agency and was visiting his friend, who had an exhibit of paintings up on the boardwalk. His girlfriend was competing in a poker tournament that evening.”
“Robert is around 50 and a regular at Venice Beach. When he first approached me, he handed me a small toy gun. I pulled the trigger and was immediately shocked by it. He laughed as I rubbed my arm in pain. He refused a story but walked past me several times curiously. Finally, he untied a dreamcatcher from his neck, threw it at my typewriter, told me to 'type something really good,' and that he would come back in 20 minutes. He returned four hours later for his story.”