Aug 09, 2012
Erika Vogt’s mystery IOU currency is a poetic commentary on the Venice Beach context, one based in a long history of struggles to preserve the free expression and exchange of ideas along this strip of public space. Ali and project coordinator Claire de Dobay Rifelj learned much about the ins and outs of the Venice Beach artistic community from several insiders, including long-time artist Arthure Moore (as portrayed in this video) and free expressionist Therese Deitlin. Though there is far more complexity than is possible to cover here, they essentially learned that Ocean Front Walk has maintained its status as a “Free Speech and Expression Zone” amid many governmental attempts to impose stricter rules regarding performance and free speech on this tourist hub. It is currently regulated by Ordinance 42.15, which was heavily lobbied and revised by free speech activists to preserve this zone of open expression.
The ordinance also defines the types of wares allowed on the boardwalk–these are “expressive items,” and “created” items that are “inherently communicative and of nominal value or utility apart from its communication.” Hence, the city’s definition of art, encoded as a matter of public policy. The designated vending spaces are further regulated by informal codes enforced by a tight network of regulars, who collectively decide space reservation protocol and an internal system of priorities around the city’s “first-come, first-serve” policy. As a result of this contentious history, some artists and Venice Beach activists were initially suspicious of the Hammer Museum and its motives—how could the institution avoid being seen as an interloper into a complex network of relations and policies determining the usage of this public space?
But as the result of radical inclusivity and a lot of personal outreach and groundwork (mostly in the form of Ali and Claire’s genuine enthusiasm, accessibility, and desire to meet with every person who raised any sort of objection or question), VBB was able to foster a summer camp-like atmosphere of extreme bonding. This included a kind of “initiation” of newbie Hammer artists, connections and collaborations with regulars, peace offerings of food and t-shirts, and a little extra excitement in the air. Some regulars still protested their characterization in an artist booklet produced by Lisa Anne Auerbach and Robby Herbst, and some retained a sense of exclusivity or trespass on the part of the Hammer, but most went right along with the flow and even enjoyed it. The Venice Beach community is certainly not monolithic, and the beauty of VBB was that it never made (as a curatorial project) any attempt to frame it as such.
- Sue Bell Yank, Assistant Director, Academic Programs
Filed under: Venice Beach Biennial