Dinosaurs popped out of the shadowy corners of Angel City Brewery on Sunday night. One, with stubby limbs and horns at the top of its head, glowed red. Another lay still at the bottom of a slide. The mouth of its pink alligator face was wide open, perhaps ready for a feeding. Its body consisted of three white orbs, each topped by multicolored spikes. In another corner, a big-bellied pink creature with yellow wings flew over a cardboard metropolis.
In Dinosaurus, an art event organized by cARTel: Collaborative Arts L.A., children dreamed up their own versions of pre-historic beasts. Grown-up artists took their concept drawings and turned them into installations.
Founded by Negin Singh about five years ago, after she finished up school at UC Irvine, cARTel puts together several large multi-disciplinary events over the year. “We decided that we were going to make it our life's mission to be the curators of L.A.'s underground scene,” says Singh, rather ambitiously. “That went from music to film to writers and visual artists.”
They're known as the group behind Brokechella, the L.A. music festival that coincides with Coachella, and the No Budget Film Festival, where filmmakers create 8 minute shorts with no budget. They also put together a massive art show annually, each one with a different theme. Previous shows have been based on childhood forts and imaginary planets. The events are non-traditional and focus on large, often interactive, installations. “The kind of people who flock to this sort of thing are not your regular artists who hang their work in a gallery,” she says. “They're really people who live art every single day and create really out of the box stuff and have a passion for challenge.”
For Dinaosaurus, cARTel joined forces with CoachArt, a group that provides art and sports classes for children with chronic illnesses, as well as their siblings. “We went over there and we had an art day with them,” says Singh. “We asked them to draw their version of an imaginary dinosaur. What would their super powers would be? How big would the be and what would they do?” The responses were varied, from Christmas dinosaurs ready to deliver presents to a flying dinosaurs.
Sevag Mahserejian and Ara Shanlian, Jr. handled one of the beasts with wings. A six-year-old named Aaron conceived of the dinosaur, called Cardboard, as a large birdlike figure with a pink body and yellow wings. Aaron had some specifications too. Cardboard was a “city dino,” from L.A., actually, and flew around buildings. Cardboard also ate fish. Mahserejian and Shanlian didn't know Aaron when they took on the project. They didn't meet him while they were working on it, so they couldn't ask the child to clarify anything. “We had room for a lot of interpretation for what the kid meant by what he drew,” says Mahserejian. “Which side was the head? Which side was the tale? Why was he flying? Why was he eating fish? We had a lot of room to improvise.”
They took inspiration from the name of the dinosaur. They built its body with chicken wire and covered it with cardboard, tissue paper and paint. The city was made of cardboard too and was covered with tiny lights that give the impression of Los Angeles at night. If you looked up close, you could see tiny dinosaurs on the buildings as well.
Shanlian is new to cARTel's events, but Mahserejian has appeared in prior shows. [Note: see correction, below.] Mahserejian also has an advantage for tapping into a six-year-old's imagination. He's a behavioral therapist who works with autistic children. “As my day job, before diving into the arts at night, I get to play with kids the whole time,” he says. “So, it's not too hard for me to jump into that curious and imaginative world. I have access to it daily.”
Mahserejian met Aaron for the first time at the event. Earlier in the day, the children who participated in the project came to see the exhibition with their parents. “He walks in, walks around, looks at me and just says, 'I'm actually amazed,'” says Mahserejian of the encounter. Mission accomplished.
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Correction: A previous version of this post said that both Shanlian and Mahserejian have done cARTel's events before, but actually only Mahserejian has. We regret the error.