This project started with fifty potted plants one Tuesday in 2006. The finished series has been edited down to 10 photos. It is important to acknowledge the other forty images because they represent the other forty plants that are important though they are not visually represented. Each photo becomes a symbol of this simple action. I left potted plans at residential houses, parked cars, bus stops, and commercial businesses. Each pot became a gift to a unknown stranger. With the gift came an unknown level of responsibility. The responsibility to take care of this object, nurture it, watch it grow. Now that is been to years I wonder if the plants are still alive, did anyone ever pick them up, were they appreciated.Through photographing the objects I humanize them. They look like small babies which are left have been left one's doorstep.
During this time I had just graduated from school. Though I was already a resident of Los Angeles for four years, this was my first attempt to make Los Angeles my home outside of college. In many ways this experiment was a way to see if I can get someone to invite me in their home, to see who would let me through their front door.
For a year I documented abandoned Christmas Trees in Los Angeles. It began in early January and ended in mid December.
The work is the process of searching, driving, biking, and walking through LA. Looking under bridges. Photographing people's yards. Search for something that has been forgotten.
The photographs become visual evidence of the trees existence. Portraits. I can't protect the objects. They have been dead since they were cut down, long before they were placed into people's homes. As the photographs progress one's can see the decay of the trees. The trees are corpses. They turn brown, their needles fall off, and they become merely sticks.
The photographs document Christmas trees from January, the time in which they are thrown out to December, right before they are purchased again. I follow the full cycle of objects as they move from trash cans to alleyways and eventually disappear.
Every year one will purchase these trees and toss them away after the holidays and the cycle will be repeated again and again. The photographs are taken in Los Angeles, pine trees are not native to LA county due to its desert climate. Not only do they look artificial in one's home, but they present a major fire hazard during the dry summer.
Is the project about exploring the negative side of Christmas trees? I think the goal of the work is not to press my politics, nor am I quiet sure what my option on these trees are. These trees exceptionally LA. In a city known for its ability to "forget", I am trying to remember these objects before they are gone.
The work is about sight and action. A simple structure is created: two pieces of ribon are tied to a fence and a tree, they to create a small bow. The structure is fragile, by pulling the ribbons undoes it. This structure is in the middle of a sidewalk, blocking anyone who wants to walk through it. As people pass by the structure some people walk around it, others go under it, one unties it. It is interesting to to see how people address the object. Do they consider this structure a problem, a artwork, or something valuable. Does their refection on the work change the way they respond to it? Would pulling the string let it free or destroy it?
I sit down at a restaurant. I take a salt shaker from the table and put it in my pocket, stealing it for either a moment or much longer depending on your view. I reach in my jacket and take out another shaker, which I took from the last restaurant I visited. I put in it the place of the first.
This gesture like many of my experiments are about the importance of the action. The simplicity of moving two objects. Nothing lost. Nothing gained. All that is taken is a photo, evidence of a physical movement.
The photographs show a odd couple, salt and pepper shakers, sitting together. They sit on the table the way visitors at the restaurant would, by themselves surrounded by a crowd of others. When one goes to a restaurant they are not going merely for the food, but to shortly rent a piece of social space. The table at a restaurant is a privately owned space. It exists in a public setting, but is used for a private purpose. Rarely does one go to a restaurant to meet or talk to strangers, but to be alone with their own company. Through my social experiment each pairing ties the customer with someone else who sat at a different restaurant. If only by ideology I am bring strangers together.
I sit in a public restroom. I listen and wait. I wait for people to speak. I wait for people to accidentally come into contact with one another and become forced to have a conversation. I then pull down the roll of toilet paper, sometimes a few squares other times a lot more. I transfer these restroom conversations on to the paper and then neatly re-roll it.
I am attempting to have a conversation with stranger, while preserving a pre-existing restroom conversation. The toilet paper has one chance for it's viewer to see it, either it read and noticed or it is ignored. The text is vague and banal as restrooms conversation seem to be. The public restroom attempts to maintain a feeling of privacy. It is rare to hear people communicate with each other, they go in to do their business and leave. When we hear someone's cell phone ring or a child scream it is alarming. But small conversations do happen, hellos are occasionally given, thanks are provided.
The public restroom also has a history as a sex pickup place for gay men. Sex occurs in the restroom in private stalls (glory holes) or it is taken to people's cars and homes. These public spaces are used to express private emotions that can be not be expressed otherwise. Many of the restrooms I vististed had sexual messages, drawings, or people's phone numbers. (Public restrooms have been getting a lot of attention in the media with celebrity sex scandals, such as George Micheal and Senator Larry Craig).
Lastly there is still something dangerous about the restroom. They are often dark, isolated and are placed at the back of the stores. When I was in high school, a young pregnant woman who worked at the local Wall Mart was dragged to the men's restroom during her shift. She was stabbed and killed in the middle of the day and wasn't found for a couples hours.
This work is an attempt to reconsider the extensive history of this space. To question as well preserve its social disconnection. Do I expect people to verbally share their problems at the urinal? Probably not, but smile of acknowledgement would be a nice start.
I leave change in people's expired parking meters throughout LA. A simple gesture which is repeated 36 times. Sometimes I leave a quarter, other times a few nickels, whatever I have. The amount can be merely a few minutes to a few hours depending on the cost meter. (The cost fluctuates in different parts of the city. In West Adams a quarter will equal an hour, but in Westwood only eight minutes.)The goal is to give someone extra time so that they won't get a ticket by parking enforcement. Parking meters are a major problem in Los Angeles. Many meters are broken or take people's money without giving them time. Due to the potential revenue from parking,
Los Angeles city bureau spends a great effort to keep parking enforcer's circulating constantly. Parking enforcers give tickets for expired meters, parking during street cleaning, and forgetting to turn one's tires. Tickets can vary from 35-60 dollars for basic parking validations alone. In fact it is actually illegal to put money in someone else's meter if they are out of time.
The amount of change adds up to 24 hours, one day, which I have given away.
What is the importance of a gesture? Is to do something kind? Is there a hope that it will be repaid in some manner(karma)? I am giving away money, yet in return I am taking the recipients' (car) photo. Does that make it an exchange? Can I be repaid? Though I don't expect someone to pay me back, I wonder how could one return the favor worthy of three minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour? When life is so short what is the value of a few minutes?
The work began as a single gesture of transferring flowers. Both the giver and the receiver are dead.
I take a set of flowers from an anonymous gravestone in a cemetery and move them to a neighboring grave.
Does the kindness of the action outweighs the criminal act? How would I explain the exchange to someone who saw me? I am giving a gift to the neglected, those who don't receive flowers on their birthday. I am giving them flowers so that they can be acknowledged.
Flowers are a strange gift. They have a short life span and withering within a few days. They mark the importance of a significant ephemeral moment. By giving flowers to the dead there is a hope that an events such as a holiday or anniversary is still important for the deceased. The kindness of the gesture out weighs the absurdity of it. The dead are unaware of the gift and the flowers are thrown away by maintenance. I am not trying to dismiss the gift by any means, I am participating in it. Though through its oddity we can examine our social relationship with the dead.
Gifts often create an exchange of power and responsibility, unconsciously we expect something in return for our generosity. A gift to dead is a one sided exchange, it lacks the ability for reciprocation. It is rewarding to give something to a loved one even if they are unaware it. A gift to dead is mirror like, with no visible appreciation from the receiver, we feel self fulfillment for our giving.
The flowers at the cemetery are diverse and beautiful. Do they have a specific significance to the dead? Are they their favorite? The loved one's favorite? Or were they chosen randomly with little consideration?
In my flower exchange, is there a preexisting relationship between the giver and receiver? If they have the same last name they are usually spouses or a family members, but otherwise there is no simple way determining a connection. It is easy to assume they are complete strangers. These strangers are part of a community that they will spend more time with than the living. The flowers become a housewarming present.
When I started to visit Forest Lawn for this project I was struck by the beauty of the space. A massive park filled with trees, public sculptures, and churches. It's so strangely manicured and clean. You can see sprinklers coming on all day to water the fields of grass. There is construction work occurring daily. Lawns are being mowed. Graves are being dug. I find the juxtaposition of family member crying and power saws quiet awkward and yet it is still peaceful. Everyone drives slowly in their cars and is very respectful of other drivers. In a city filled with so many unused parks, people come to cemetery and sit on the grass for hours with their loved ones. I see families on Saturdays with their umbrellas and picnic baskets eating lunch. People use the cemetery to jog and bike ride. The park becomes a complex constructed utopia. Perhaps the perfect place that you would want your loved ones to be buried? I don't know.
The Bad Guest
A transition from my public performances I started to make work in the bathrooms of my friends and family. Whenever I was invited over for dinner or a social gathering I would sneak into the host's bathroom, pick up a toothbrush, and move it. The movement was always minimal. Sometimes I would move it a few inches, other times a bit further. The importance was to understand and violate a unnoticeable personal object. I would wonder if anyone would see. Are our everyday actions so ingrained in us that we immediately notice if something so banal as this was disrupted? One friend called immediately after I left her house asking if I had moved her toothbrush. Another person, who I moved their toothbrush multiple times, told me months later that they thought they were losing their mind. They were convinced their memory had failed them. They thought they would put their toothbrush one place, when they returned it was somewhere different. Past and present no longer connected.
I mapped stolen shopping carts in North East Los Angeles. I would record their location (photographically) then I would measure the distance they had traveled. Shopping carts are created to hold items one plans to purpose. By taking them out of their commercial setting, they develop endless social uses. These carts are taken by families who do not own a car and need away to carry home their groceries. They are taken by the homeless to push around their few belonging. I have also seen college students use them to move their months laundry to the laundry mat. Missing carts has causes major problems for shopping vendors, because purchasing new ones are very expensive (avg $150-200 a cart). Store owners will often install magnetic devices on to the wheels that will lock them in place if they leave the parking lot. Small family cart pickup companies are developing. They drive around and collect abandoned shopping carts in order to receive a commission from each store. A whole social commerce has been created by and for this local community. The carts are taken for use and return for money, all at the cost of merchant. I am not condoning their actions, since it is stealing (nor am I condemning it either). But when a community spends their hard worked money at a business, they have the right to ask for something return.
On my 24th birthday I had 24 people, close friend, family, etc., each blow out a birthday candle and make a wish. For me this idea came from a Sophie Calle artwork in which she started to preserving every gift that she had received. I thought it would be nice to flip the action around. Birthdays focus so much on one individual. I'll the first to admit that it feels really great have a specific day devoted to me. Everyone makes sure to call you, see how you doing, even give you presents. But I think birthdays, like all celebration, are about recognizing the support of one's surrounding community. The birthday wish is consider the most likely wish to come true. If that's the case after all chaos I bring to those around, see Toothbrushes, then here's a small opportunity to give something back.
I haven't thought much about this work in quiet a couple years, but as my work addresses community participation again and again, I think it's important to see where it stemmed from. I did a performance in 2006 in which I went door to door asking for cups of sugar from my neighbors. A small gesture developed to build re pore. In Los Angeles we don't really speak to our neighbors, many of the people I met I had never seen before though they lived two doors down. They were curiously surprised by me. I was asked numerous question, who are you? What do you want the sugar for? Most people thought I was joking, a practical joke, since the gesture seemed too absurd. I remember one man in his mid thirties saying, "I though it was something they only did in 50s TV shows." But most people obliged and were actually quiet generous, I would receive sugar packets, containers of artificial sugars, and sugar cubes.
I didn't explain to my donors why I wanted it. With my bags of sugar I created gallons of lemonade. I setup a table and chair on my street corner and for a full day handed out free lemonade. Again I received mixed opinions and responses. I explained it was a way to do something nice for the community. Which was true, but it was also about social exchange, I became the mediator that organized a community together to create this products. Neighbors both fed and gave to each other without knowing it. The work depended upon social kindness and trust to occur. Little social change occurred, but through the action a few people got out of their cars and houses and soke with their neighbors.