Freyja Bardell and Brian Howe are hardly the first artists to show an interest in the Los Angeles River, but they are certainly part of a new generation that is more convinced than ever of its potential.
Bardell and Howe have been working together for the past decade and have started executing guerrilla-style living sculptures in the river, a project they call the River Liver Series. “If there is a way of communicating environmental issues within the artwork, I like to investigate that,” Bardell says.
Both Bardell and Howe are L.A. transplants, one by way of rural England and the other from farm country in Arkansas. Their backgrounds include environmental sciences, architecture and philosophy.
“We can have days of heated discussions about a concept,” Bardell says. “It’s not like we both agree. We are often in disagreement, and through that process we come to something that we both can creatively hold on to.”
They collectively go by “Greenmeme” and are informed by an arts community that includes a broad spectrum of Angelenos. “As harsh as this city can seem to some people, I feel like it’s also incredibly supportive,” Howe says in the sun-soaked living room of his and Bardell’s Cypress Park studio. He says he’s inspired by “the talents of all of the people around you to pull off amazing things no matter what they are” and is encouraged by “amazing shops that get things fabricated in a week — you can’t do that anywhere else.”
The pair credits much of Greenmeme’s success to the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, which helps make art more accessible to all people in the community. “We’re not really gallery people,” Bardell says. “Our work is out in the environment. It’s like land art.”
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The Riverside Drive bridge over the river is the future home of their most anticipated L.A. project, which has been eight years in the making and is set to be competed this year: a roundabout that will include landscape and water-filtration elements, as well as three-dimensional sculptures of randomly selected residents of Elysian Valley. The stone for the sculptures is being quarried just outside of Yosemite, and the sculptures will serve as both gateway guardians to the community and a time-stamp of the neighborhood’s demographics.
“One of the things that keeps us here is how exciting we think the next 10 years is going to be,” Howe says of L.A. “When they actually do this river revitalization, it’s going to be L.A.’s Central Park. Culturally, I think it’s the spot to be on the West Coast.”